Pilsen Gentrification Gets Mixed Reviews

By Will Lighthart

The first thing that passengers see as they get off the CTA Pink Line in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood is a variety of vibrant colors and eye-catching images.

Stairs that lead to the streets below are adorned with murals that exemplify the culture of the residents.

The West Side neighborhood of Pilsen, located between 16th Street, Cermak Road, Halsted Street, and Western Avenue, is predominantly Mexican but consists of other Latino ethnicities.

Large, gothic structures still dot the neighborhood, representing the strong Czech presence before the 1960s. Around 35,000 people, according to the 2010 census, call Pilsen home.

Residents are now concerned that another big shift in demographic may be upon them. This shift, however, is being forced by the hands of gentrification, unlike the willing and independent departure of the Czech population almost 60 years ago.

Zarai Zaragoza, 20, a florist at Jazmin Flowers and Balloons, believed that the recent changes bring business as well as hardship.

Zaragoza noted that while tourism has helped smaller businesses flourish, the introduction of cafes and thrift stores marks unwanted advances by colleges like the nearby University of Illinois at Chicago.

Zaragoza expressed her distaste for the new businesses by saying, “My people can’t go in [to the stores] because we don’t want to contribute to the gentrification.”

Carlos Lourenzo, 38, owner of Knee Deep clothing store and a Pilsen resident for almost a decade, had a different take on the pressing issue.

Lourenzo thought that because Pilsen offers a cheaper alternative to other neighborhoods close to downtown, like Lincoln Park, Pilsen was naturally growing in popularity.

Lourenzo dismissed the notion that Pilsen is losing its authenticity.

“Chicago is a great, diverse city and it should stay that way.”

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