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Pilsen (Lower West Side)

Seeking role as center of Mexican-American life

Just three miles from downtown, Pilsen has been a port-of-entry community for more than 130 years. Today it is a primary gateway for Mexican-Americans, with a population that is 89 percent Latino and 37 percent non-citizens.

Packed tight with modest cottages and brick two-flats, and flanked by a strong industrial district, the community was home to 44,031 people in 2000. Unemployment tracks city averages but incomes are comparatively low, with 45 percent of households earning less than half the area median. The community has seen a modest increase in owner-occupied housing, to 26 percent in 2000. Significantly more households had income above $35,000 (38 percent) than below the poverty level (27 percent).

The eastern section of Pilsen has attracted been home to artists and galleries for more than 20 years. This arts district, along with the expansion of the nearby University of Illinois at Chicago, has brought the first signs of gentrification into Pilsen.

Property values and rents have risen in recent years and there is a greater choice of housing at the high end of the market. As middle- to higher-income Latinos and whites move in, some working-class Mexican-Americans report they’re finding it harder to stay due to the higher rents.

At a New Communities Program visioning session in May 2003, Pilsen residents and leaders said educational opportunities have improved, gang activity is down, the retail mix is more upscale, and residents are more involved. Day care facilities and green space remain lacking.

Residents said they want to create a mixed-income, predominantly Mexican community with strong cultural identity, faith and values that will be “vibrant, colorful, folkloric, beautiful” and serve as the cultural center of the Mexican population in the Midwest.

Please click to see John McCarron's in-depth neighborhood profile from Re:New newsletter, posted in May 2007.

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