Collaborating with the Pilsen Alliance, a group dedicated to preserving the mostly Hispanic neighborhood, a team of DePaul geography students conducted a building-by-building inventory of the community from 2004 to 2006. The information was collected by students in a database of records from the City of
Hague and Curran have published their findings in a book titled “Contested Chicago: Pilsen and Gentrification” (Lula.com 2008), which provides a detailed look at the way that gentrification happens both on the ground and through public policy, as well as how community activists have tried to stop it. Through their case study of one
There may be no other neighborhood in
“Change is inevitable, but the way that change occurs is not,” explained Curran, who teaches classes in urban, social and cultural geography. “We could see genuine community development in Pilsen with minimal displacement, but that would mean a less profitable housing market. Development without displacement would require a different set of values than those currently on display in city planning policy.”
Hague, whose areas of expertise include cultural, social and political geography, also expressed doubt that real estate developers will offer properties at prices that will thwart displacement. “In
Pilsen’s unique historical legacy, outlined in “Contested Chicago,” underscores the area’s rapid development. Pilsen was a part of
The 53-page booklet contains more than 50 photographs and illustrations of real estate in Pilsen and detailed maps produced by geography student Harpreet Gill. Photo layouts often juxtapose century-old ornate houses next to basic, contemporary multi-unit buildings under construction. Photos in the book also capture the Hispanic cultural influence of the area evident in public artwork, such as murals and mosaic tableaus.
Several factors contribute to the displacement of working-class residents in Pilsen, including rising property taxes, according to the book. Homeowners facing increased property taxes in Pilsen have not taken advantage of the homeowner’s exemption allowing for reduced property taxes. Hague and Curran’s research showed that one-third of Pilsen homeowners do not claim tax reductions to which they are entitled. As a result of this finding, the Pilsen Alliance is conducting ongoing community workshops to educate homeowners about the exemption and help them claim current and previous tax exemptions.
Meanwhile, DePaul’s work to update and map data as well as inventory buildings is ongoing, as is the Pilsen Alliance’s struggle against gentrification. The book details strategies that have been adopted to fight it, including a down-zoning referendum designed to maintain the scale of buildings and reduce the trend of condominium construction in the historic neighborhood, which grew out of discussions about data from DePaul’s Building Inventory Project. Down zoning is a popular strategy used nationwide to slow heated development.
Although the Pilsen referendum passed in March 2006 with 75 percent of the vote, Ald. Danny Solis, (25th) publicly announced soon after that he would not enact down zoning of Pilsen.
“Through work on this project, DePaul students have learned that there is more to this world than their previous experience of it,” said Curran. “While Pilsen may not have always seemed to them like a ‘nice’ neighborhood, students have come to understand why community activists are fighting so hard to preserve their homes and they can sympathize with the struggle.”
“They realize that contrary to media portrayals, gentrification is not a win-win situation, and some people are being forced to move out of homes they grew up in and away from neighborhoods they enjoy,” added Hague.