When Ty Kolup, 53, bought his auto garage in 1981, the streets alongside it were riddled with gangs and fighting. Now, 35 years later, the housing market is up and violence is down.
“I took a gamble when I came to the neighborhood,” Kolup said. “The people who are protesting (gentrification) do not own property in Pilsen. Fifteen or 20 years ago, the city was bad. When the gangs were here, I’d go to a funeral once or twice a week.”
Kolup’s garage is in Pilsen, a Chicago neighborhood located on the West Side between Little Village and Bridgeport. The city has become a melting pot of culture and a home for many Hispanic families. Graffiti covers buildings, and “Pilsen is not for sale” is written over walls and signs.
But the Pilsen melting pot is being stirred with a silver spoon. The city’s white population is rising, and gentrification, the renovation of a district to fit middle-class standards, is at an all-time high. According to a 2013 study by University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), there are 4,385 white people in Pilsen, a 22 percent jump from 2000. The total population: approximately 36,000.
Store manager Charles Roberts, 40, moved from Boston to Pilsen because of its thriving artist community, murals and vintage shopping. Now he has to leave the neighborhood because of high rent.
When he came to Pilsen 10 years ago, it was the only neighborhood he could afford. Since then he has noticed a drop in crime but a rise in house costs.
“I have people coming through here all the time asking where the murals are and I tell them ‘they’re everywhere,’” Roberts said. “I really tried to stay here because I really like the community a lot, but I have to find somewhere more affordable.”
Students are choosing Pilsen because of its close proximity to the UIC. Families and young adults are finding good house prices compared to suburbs closer to downtown.
Kolup understands the protests. However, he finds the positives of gentrification outweigh the negatives.
“What will happen is that Pilsen will change with the students because it is good for UIC,” Kolup said. “My prediction is that in 20 years Pilsen will no longer be Hispanic, it will be mixed.”