While Chicago has not faced the same levels of displacement due to gentrification as cities like New York and San Francisco, a number of its neighborhoods are experiencing rapid shifts in population and demographics. In particular, neighborhoods like Pilsen on the city’s near South Side, historically home to a large Mexican population, are being eyed by developers as the next hot neighborhood, worrying long-time residents. In at least one case, though, the developers are listening to local concerns and attempting to mitigate any tensions that may arise in the vulnerable neighborhood.
ParkWorks, a proposed 7.85-acre development in the heart of Pilsen, is taking special care—architecturally and administratively—to work with the neighborhood. On the developer’s side, Property Markets Group (PMG) organized a number of community meetings to hear from the people who will be most affected by the new multibuilding mixed-use complex. Rather than the typical presentation followed by a question-and-answer session, the meetings could better be described as public critiques. Presentation boards and texts were displayed, with developers and architects on hand to discuss the issues on a more personal level with area’s residents. Yet the community involvement is planned to extend past these initial meetings.
When complete, the project, which will include hundreds of new residential units, will provide a higher percentage of affordable housing than any other private development in Chicago, according to PMG. The development also plans to employ local residents: Two-thirds of the development’s staff will be hired from within the neighborhood, and businesses moving into any of the 10,000 square feet of retail space in the development will be given a 20 percent discount on rent if they hire one-third or more of their staff from the surrounding community. During construction, an employment center is set to be opened on the project’s site to help enable more local employment. Recognizing the area’s demographics, much of the proposal’s communications have also been bilingual, in English and Spanish.
While the developers managed local relations, the project’s architects and planners, Chicago-based Cordogan, Clark & Associates, have worked to provide for the existing community through design. Notably, 50 percent of the development has been set aside for open green space. This includes courtyards and transverse walkways through the site. The heart of the buildings’ campus will also include an “arts walk” along South Peoria Avenue, which bisects the site. The property is also immediately adjacent to the future Paseo Trail, an urban linear park being developed on a former rail line.
Density is often an indicating factor in gentrification, with either swift drops or increases signifying drastic uncontrolled change. In the case of ParkWorks, the project is filling two large, completely empty tracts of land. Thanks to the large amount of open space in the plan, its density will be slightly lower than the surrounding neighborhood. While this will be a net gain for the neighborhood’s density, it is as if the site were filled with the typical two-flats that populate most of the neighborhood.
There is no question that Pilsen, and many neighborhoods like it, are changing. While as a whole Chicago’s population is declining, white millennials are flocking to the city, affecting the demographics and density of particular areas. Many new city dwellers are the adult children of a generation that fled the city to the suburbs starting in the 1960s, making room for the communities that now define Chicago. So, when any development is built, it will undoubtedly attract residents from outside the existing community—it is an experiment in social integration. For the good of the city, and its many diverse communities, one can only hope that experiments like ParkWorks are successful.