Changing Faces: Are Pilsen’s Changing Demographics Transforming the Culture of the Neighborhood?
Walk along any street in Pilsen and you can still see paleteros wearing traditional Mexican sombreros and a horde of Latino children playing by a hydrant on hot summer days. The sidewalks still play host to taco and fruit stands, and the air is filled with the proverbial notes of Spanish.
But while the Mexican presence still holds strong in the neighborhood, over the years it has seen an influx of non-Latino residents—a younger, hipster-like crowd that has been moving in.
While many believe that this new influx of newcomers is gentrifying the neighborhood, others believe it is adding diversity and making Pilsen a more interesting and culturally diverse community.
Once a predominantly Czech neighborhood, Pilsen became a magnet for many Mexican immigrants during the 1960s. Back then, the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) had begun to expand its campus throughout Roosevelt Road and Halsted Street, displacing the many Mexican families that lived in that area.
Now the neighborhood is transforming again. Relatively cheaper rent has helped attract white college students into the area, as well as business owners who grasp at the opportunity to open vintage shops, art galleries and furniture stores.
Pilsen’s affordable rent and lively community charmed Jamie Roelofs and Jen Thomas. After living in the neighborhood for five years, they decided to open a vintage shop on 18th and Loomis Streets called Comet.
“We saw what the neighborhood was doing and wanted to move faster and be part of it,” said Roelofs. “It’s turning over. There used to be a lot of vacant storefronts and failed businesses. It’s definitely turning into something else but it’s still a community.”
Roelofs does not believe that businesses like hers are the cause for gentrification, pointing the development on Halsted Street, just south of the UIC campus.
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