Pilsen: A Neighborhood Profile

 

By Tenley Ziperski

Waking down the painted steps of the CTA Station onto 18th Street into Pilsen, it’s immediately evident that this Chicago neighborhood shows the culture on each street within the borders.

Murals on each building continue to show the culture through the art. The architecture for each building carefully thought out and local shops and restaurants busy with tourists and natives.

Before Mexican immigrants began to flock to Pilsen in the 1960s, the town was originally a Czech neighborhood. Because of this, Czechoslovakian and Hispanic aspects of culture are noticeable on every street corner.

The neighborhood of Pilsen is bordered by 16th street on the north, the South Branch of the Chicago River on the south. A small portion of the West Side neighborhood contains about 36,000 people as of 2010.

While the population is primarily Hispanic, there are increasingly more white, middle class people entering the neighborhood, who are attracted by the accessible location and inexpensive rents.  This has resulted in gentrification, which has had both positive and negative effects.

Outsides might view the gentrification as a negative. The new franchises, such as Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts threaten the cultural authenticity of Pilsen, according to some residents.

“It’s all about trends and availability…what the neighborhood can offer as far as location in the city,” store owner Carlos Lourenzo, 38, said. “The neighborhood is going through changes, like everywhere…it’s all inevitable.”

Zarai Zaragoza, 20, a lifelong resident of Pilsen,  discussed the changes in the neighborhood.

“We have debated moving a couple times because it’s getting more expensive, but we decided to stay,” said Zaragoza, who works at her family’s flower shop, Jazmin Flowers and Balloons. “[Gentrification] isn’t taking away authenticity, some of the businesses have been thriving in a way because of tourism, but also more thrift stores and cafes that don’t really belong here.”

While there are some mixed feelings on the gentrification in the neighborhood, the effects don’t seem to have changed the overall dynamic of Pilsen, as the culture still beams from every street and shop.

Gilberto Sandoval, 22, another lifelong resident who works at the National Museum of Mexican Art said “surprisingly the neighborhood hasn’t changed as much as people like to think. The demographic of the neighborhood has definitely shifted but urbanization shifts in cycles.”

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