Revitalization or downzoning for Pilsen? - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Revitalization or downzoning for Pilsen?

Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood debates the future of development in the area.

Public participation is necessary to ensure communities benefit from change and development. The Pilsen neighborhood, near Chicago's southwest side and bounded by Cermak Road to the south, 16th Street to the north, Canal Street to the east, and Damen Avenue to the west, is especially sensitive to the importance of community input because the neighborhood is attracting more and more development. Looking at the big picture before deciding where, what and how development in Pilsen should occur requires getting all the options on the table, so that development will enhance Pilsen and the city.

Most people who live in Pilsen are excited about the prospects for improving their community. But understandably, they don’t want to be left behind or lose their voice in the community as it grows.

In the March 2006 election, local voters overwhelmingly passed a referendum asking 25th Ward Ald. Daniel Solis to downzone the neighborhood. Downzoning, which limits the height and/or number of units in a development, reduces home choices and, thus, affordable home options. Downzoning would decrease the supply and variety of homes being built, which means that the remaining homes will become more expensive, especially if new construction is almost exclusively big single-family homes. Pilsen’s need for a larger supply of more modest homes and apartments within reach of families with low and moderate incomes cannot be met through downzoning.

The Pilsen neighborhood and the city as a whole need development that offers many choices for living, and invites and meets the needs of people from all walks of life. Other than modest growth between 1990 and 2000, Chicago has been losing population since the 1950s. Opening the market, rather than closing it through downzoning, will provide the wide variety of housing choices that create opportunity for neighborhood stores, local school improvement, and new businesses – welcome progress for all residents.

Blanket downzoning also is no substitute for sustained community participation; the needs of the community are simply too complex to be solved by a one-time decision. Most people who live in Pilsen are excited about the prospects for improving their community. But understandably, they don’t want to be left behind or lose their voice in the community as it grows. Continued public participation in the planning and visioning for the future of Pilsen is the best way to ensure a voice; this means being willing to plan ahead and consider each new proposed development.

Residents in neighborhoods fortunate enough to attract new development, like Pilsen, are faced with tradeoffs. Genuine public participation, carefully weighing all the options, and making sure new development will provide the greatest benefits to the community as a whole – that’s really all the people of Pilsen are asking for.

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