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Pilsen 'making history' with new plan

A who’s who of Pilsen community leaders crowded the stage of the Rudy Lozano Branch Library on January 24 to announce their commitment to work together on a plan for the community’s future.

Photo: Patrick Barry

Ald. Daniel Solis (from left), Raul Raymundo, Teresa Fraga and others participated in the press conference. 

The new Pilsen Planning Committee, made up of 17 organizations and 25th Ward Ald. Daniel Solis, has held two planning meetings so far and developed four preliminary strategies for building a “stronger, safer, mixed-income, healthier Mexican community for families.”

Hablamos de historia (We’re talking about history),” said committee co-chair Teresa Fraga, a board member of Pilsen Neighbors Community Council. “Each organization represented here today, and those that couldn’t make it, have made their own history in this community. The history that we are making together, that we are embarking on today, is to create a plan that will preserve Pilsen as a Mexican community of families.”

Breaking new ground

Fraga and The Resurrection Project’s executive director Raul Raymundo are co-chairing the committee, which has brought together an unprecedented coalition of groups that have not always worked well together.

Ald. Solis also noted that the planning effort was breaking new ground. “The key word here is history,” said Solis, speaking in Spanish for the Spanish-language media outlets. “All these people here are leaders and they all have track records of doing good things for people. But the difference is that many times in the past we have worked separately; it was a rare occasion that we worked together. And the historic thing is that now we are going to work together.”

Photo: The Resurrection Project

Many of the neighborhood's long-time leaders joined together to commit to the planning proces.

The groups have teamed up in part because Pilsen, a Mexican port-of-entry for more than 30 years, is experiencing the greatest pressure yet from gentrification and redevelopment in surrounding neighborhoods. More than 3,500 units of new upper-income housing are being built just north of the railroad viaducts near the University of Illinois, and there has been heavy investment in the nearby Illinois Medical District and Pilsen Industrial Corridor.

Residents are concerned that Pilsen’s Mexican identity and culture could be diminished, and residents displaced, by an influx of new residents and money.

Difficult challenges

“We have recognized that only by working together can we address the challenges in the community,” said Raymundo, “so that we can have development without displacement, better health care access for our children and our families, and better education for our youth.”

Raymundo said work groups are being formed to further develop the plan’s four core strategies, which are:

  1. Build a strong neighborhood economy;
  2. Provide a range of housing options;
  3. Make Pilsen a self-reliant family-oriented community; and
  4. Improve Pilsen’s image as a strong Mexican neighborhood.

Photo: Patrick Barry

25th Ward Ald. Daniel Solis was all smiles after signing the proclamation of support. In background, Hector Saldana of Eighteenth Street Development Corp.

Smiling broadly, Solis signed a proclamation of support for the planning process, committing “to bring necessary resources including municipal, financial and human, to help implement the Pilsen Neighborhood Plan.”  (Click here to download the proclamation.)

The power of the plan, he said, was in the coalition of respected community groups. “This group is tremendously significant,” he said. “If I bring this group to a meeting with (School Superintendent) Arne Duncan, or the Mayor of the City of Chicago, or any department head, they are going to be impressed. They are going to do what we are supporting.”

The Pilsen Planning Committee will meet through May to develop a comprehensive quality-of-life plan, Raymundo said. “The idea is to develop realistic projects that we can implement.”

Participating organizations include:

  • Ald. Daniel Solis (25th Ward)
  • Alivio Medical Center
  • Casa Aztlan
  • Eighteenth Street Development Corporation
  • El Hogar del Niño
  • El Valor
  • Gads Hill
  • Instituto Del Progreso Latino
  • Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum
  • Mujeres Latinas En Acción
  • Pilsen “Together” Chamber of Commerce
  • Pilsen Alliance
  • Pilsen Neighbors Community Council
  • Pros Arts Studio
  • Rauner Family YMCA
  • Spanish Coalition For Housing
  • The Resurrection Project
  • West Side Technical Institute

The planning process is supported by LISC/Chicago’s New Communities Program, a comprehensive community development effort in 16 Chicago neighborhoods.

To download a report on the planning committee's retreat on Nov. 22, 2005, click here.

For detailed work sheets from the retreat showing local programs, maps and project ideas, click here.

Contact: Alvaro R. Obregón, NCP Manager for The Resurrection Project, (312) 666-1323 x208, aobregon@resurrectionproject.org

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