Population change creates 'new' Chicago Lawn
Located on the southwest side of the city, Chicago Lawn is a multi-ethnic working class community determined to stop the downward spiral of disinvestment and urban decay, and to create an attractive, safe and inviting place to live for families from many backgrounds. Today, African-Americans and people of Mexican and Arab descent are purchasing homes in the area, becoming a part of existing institutions and supporting new types of organizations and businesses.
Historically, Chicago Lawn, which includes Marquette Park, had been a European-immigrant community, predominantly Lithuanian, German, Polish and Irish. Long-time residents recall knowing all their neighbors and being connected to others through their schools, parishes and jobs at nearby manufacturing plants.
By the 1990s, the gradual demographic change that had been taking place in Chicago Lawn increased rapidly. The population grew by 20 percent from 1990 to 2000, reaching 61,412. The African American population more than doubled to 52.9 percent, the Latino population went up 7.3 percent to 35.1 percent, and the white population dropped 72 percent. The transition from white to Black and Latino moved so quickly that some saw new residents as “placeholders” rather than true stakeholders and local institutions did not keep up with the change. Many longtime residents left and those that stayed felt a sense of loss and resentment.
The efforts of neighborhood institutions to combat predatory lending, educate homeowners and get banks to reinvest in the community meant that Chicago Lawn never lost large amounts of housing (it gained 664 units in the 1990s; this, despite a drop in owner-occupied housing from 80 percent to 51.6 percent and an increase to 19.8 percent of its population living below the poverty level).
Community leaders and residents participating in Chicago Lawn’s New Communities Program report that as the community has adjusted to this rapid change, neighborhood institutions have brought on new leadership, and new organizations have been born. They acknowledge that there is still much to be done, but feel confident that those involved are committed to building productive relationships, sharing resources and creating new ones.
Institutions such as the Greater Southwest Development Corporation (GSDC), the Southwest Organizing Project, Neighborhood Housing Services, and Southwest Women Working Together have been instrumental in bridging the racial divide through relationship-building, housing and economic development, and advocacy around immigration, education, violence and predatory lending.
Please click to see John McCarron's in-depth neighborhood profile from Re:New newsletter, posted in July 2005.