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Little Village (South Lawndale)

"La Villita" enjoys population, retail surge

In the 1970s, Little Village, or La Villita, became home to a growing Latino population as many Mexican and Mexican-Americans moved west from Pilsen, Chicago ’s principal port-of-entry for Mexican immigrants. La Villita has gained more than 30,000 residents since 1960 to reach 91,071 in the 2000 census, the highest ever. While 13 percent are African American, up from 9 percent in 1990, it is still predominantly Latino, with 83 percent Latino residents.

Mexicans from all over the Midwest visit Little Village’s vibrant 26th street retail district for the kinds of products they would find in Mexico. Home to many restaurants that serve the right mix of authentic Mexican food in a festive setting, La Villita is quickly becoming a tourist destination for non-Latinos as well. Though traffic along these streets has increased tremendously, most residents appreciate the business and are interested in keeping the dollars in their community.

Housing in Little Village is a mix of brick 2- and 3-flat buildings with some cottages, bungalows and frame houses scattered among them. Black, wrought iron fences line homes on just about every block. In 2005, more households had incomes above $35,000 (44 percent) than below $15,000 (23 percent), and the rate of owner-occupied housing inched up to 37 percent.

Similar to other Latino communities, the Little Village population is young, with 48.9% under age 25. The rising number of children and youth in the community has created a demand for more and better schools, parks, social services, and youth programs.

The New Communities Program has generated a buzz in the community through its efforts to secure a new park on the east side, creation of a block-based basketball program, and new arts initiatives for neighborhood residents and artists.

Almost a year and a half ago the City of Chicago Park District and Department of Planning made a commitment to develop new park space in this dense community that suffers from the least amount of green-space second only to Logan Square. However to date there has still been no announcement of construction of such park. Community members have organized committees to address this pressing issue and have taken their case to the City officials recently.

Although Pilsen is better known for its artist community and galleries, recently Little Village has also experienced its own surge in arts opportunities. A a group of artists are working to create spaces in the neighborhood to provide a stage for emerging Little Village artists. A recent Arts Fest highlighted neighborhood artists at seven different locations.

Although previously known mostly for its vibrant commercial strip, Little Village is quickly drawing attention for its spirit of activism, improving education and public safety, and building community through the arts.

Please click to see John McCarron's in-depth neighborhood profile from Re:New newsletter, posted in September 2004.

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