Taking a stroll down any street attests to the viability of a neighborhood that must be preserved, in its entirety, at all costs. The simple act of turning a corner can reveal a mural exploding from the side of a building. A garage door becomes an artist’s canvas, telling the story of a community and its people to anyone who passes by. In a neighborhood starved for green space, the street becomes a ball field and chairs hastily borrowed from the kitchen table instantly transform the sidewalk into a welcoming front porch. The instinct to place flowerpots on a windowsill, on the front steps, or on any other horizontal surface seldom goes unfulfilled. Fences are not fences, but art galleries and, what would be an ordinary sidewalk sale in any other Chicago neighborhood, in Pilsen becomes an outdoor Bazaar. Pushcarts selling ices and other delectable Mexican treats ply the streets or are found strategically parked on busy corners, and a constant chorus of children’s voices underscores it all. Even the faded and peeling paint lends an aura of charming realness in a city whose current administration favors newness and suburban sterility.
To get an idea of what Pilsen may look like in five years, a short drive north may provide some answers. The East Village neighborhood began an intense debate over its future about 10 years ago when rampant speculative redevelopment began to transform its historic but run-down streets. Today, on some blocks, almost every building has been demolished and replaced with luxury housing.