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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

Outdoor Dining And Artist-Designed Planters Will Help Make Austin A Hub For Art And Culture This Summer

The improvements to Madison Street and Chicago Avenue are part of city push to boost tourism and help small businesses recover from the pandemic.

Chicagoans enjoy the warm weather and outdoor dining along Division Street in West Town as Illinois moves into the Bridge Phase – the final step before a full reopening under Phase 5 – on May 14, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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AUSTIN – Outdoor dining is getting a big boost in Austin thanks to improvements coming to the neighborhood’s main commercial areas under a city program.

Chicago Avenue and Madison Street in Austin will see arts, music and greenery this summer in an effort to make the streets a more welcoming place for residents. The improvements are part of the Chicago Alfresco program led by the Mayor’s Office, Choose Chicago and the Chicago Department of Transportation.

The enhancements planned by the Austin Chamber of Commerce will beautify the neighborhood’s streetscape and “raise the awareness of the richness in arts and culture in our community,” Executive Director Tina Augustus said.

“We’re looking to enhance curb appeal, increase foot traffic and increase revenues within the business corridors,” Augustus said.

Austin has practically no restaurants with outdoor seating, Augustus said. But the initiative will help create a culture of outdoor dining that will benefit business owners who don’t have room for indoor seating and encourage foot traffic in the area, she said.

“If you’re hosting events outdoors with people sitting outside, others driving down the street will take notice … and sit outdoors and shoot the breeze and enjoy the weather,” Augustus said.

Austin-based artist Antonia Ruppert is designing a series of large planters to beautify Madison Street and Chicago Avenue and make the corridors a better place to walk, bike, dine and gather.

The planters will incorporate art that reflects the experiences of people living in Austin, Ruppert said.

“I think about that little boy or little girl who is going to walk along the avenue and see something that looks like them, something beautiful that looks like them,” Ruppert said.

The chamber is working with the Austin Green Team and the Austin Garden Collective to bring more plants, flowers and greenery to the streets.

The initiative will also incorporate art tours that will shine a light on the history, culture and abundance of creative talent in Austin, Ruppert said.

Live music and performances are being planned to make Chicago Avenue and Madison Street a destination for shopping, dining and leisure.

“We are really creating an ecosystem of culture and art that is going to be the dominant theme. We’re changing the narrative,” Ruppert said.

The city is still accepting proposals for Chicago Alfresco grants. More information on the program is available here. 

The city’s Expanded Outdoor Dining program — which was introduced last year and permits bars and restaurants to operate in private parking lots, on the sidewalk or in closed streets — will also continue this year. Businesses can apply for permits here.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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