Logan Square and Pilsen might look different today if… - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Logan Square and Pilsen might look different today if…

A new tool empowers residents of gentrifying neighborhoods to better understand the impacts of catalytic developments, from housing affordability to small business resiliency

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Blue Line Track Renewal in 2014, above Panaderia La Central, which closed in May 2018 after 35 years in business

The Logan Square I Remember

Displacement is personal. When I think about Logan Square, I remember my father’s immigrant story and my family trips to the neighborhood when I was growing up. In the early ‘80s, my father immigrated to the U.S. as a teenager and settled in an apartment on Milwaukee Ave. and California Ave. His story was not unusual in Logan Square—a neighborhood that had been a home to many immigrants. By the 1990’s Hispanic residents made up close to two-thirds of the neighborhood’s population. Soon after his time in Logan Square, my father moved out and began a family in a nearby neighborhood, although we often returned to visit family members and friends who remained in Logan Square. I remember visiting a relative who lived near Lyndale St. and California Ave. and stopping by the corner bakery Panaderia La Central for some pan dulce. On other occasions, my parents would take us shopping at the Mega Mall where they had puestos that sold everything you could possibly need. Although I loved visiting relatives and going to the Mega Mall, nothing topped the tamales and champurrado vendors on Washtenaw Ave. and Milwaukee Ave. It was not just the food that was great; it was the people we met and conversations we had in those spaces that made Logan Square a special place to me. 

It was not just the food that was great; it was the people we met and conversations we had in those spaces that made Logan Square a special place to me.

Those places that were a big part of my childhood are no longer there. The vendors on Washtenaw Ave. are no longer selling their delicious food next to the newly built apartments. The Mega Mall has been demolished in order to make room for new apartments and commercial spaces. Similarly, Panaderia La Central recently shut its doors and it is only a matter of time before it becomes a new business.

Logan Square has changed dramatically. According to a report by UIC and the Metropolitan Family Services, since 2000, Logan Square has seen the largest decrease in Latinos of any community area in the city. The report also noted that, from 2000-2014, 19,200 Latinos moved out of Logan Square. Furthermore, although there are no specific counts on the small businesses that have closed their doors due to the rising costs and declining sales, it is apparent that the retail landscape in the area has changed.

Since 2000, Logan Square has seen the largest decrease in Latinos of any community area in the city.

The story of Pilsen is not any different. After graduating from college, I had the opportunity to work at a non-profit organization there and had conversations with community residents. Through those interactions, I learned about the daily struggles that many families faced while trying to make ends meet and moving ahead. In those conversations, people also talked about the loss of housing affordability and local small businesses.

The community concerns I heard are real and visible. From 2000 to 2010, the Latino population in Pilsen declined by over 25%. It’s true that a variety of factors influence the decision-making of people leaving a neighborhood, but one central motivation is the loss of housing affordability. In Pilsen, the cost of renting and owning a house has gone up dramatically. For instance, in Pilsen, in 2010, over 50 percent of renter households and 52 percent of households with mortgages were cost burdened; cost-burdened families pay over 30% of their income for rent or mortgages.

Furthermore, as was the case in Logan Square, there have been cases where small businesses have closed after serving the neighborhood for many years. This was a concern I heard often during my time working in Pilsen. This trend continues today for businesses like Chavez Jewelry.

Looking at neighborhoods like Pilsen and Logan Square, it is apparent that there is something missing from our current approach to community development and investment. Don’t get me wrong: community development and investment is not bad. In many cases, it is necessary in communities that have struggled with decades of disinvestment and neglect. But as new development and investment is being considered and approved, the planning and implementation process must change. 

When it comes to development, we must be proactive

As developments and investments are proposed in community areas across the city, local residents should have a larger voice in the process.

Community residents and stakeholders best understand the community’s challenges, objectives and goals. Community stakeholders are the best advocates for the community's needs and objectives. I have never heard a resident express disagreement with creating a prosperous community for themselves and their families. As has been the case in neighborhoods across the city, residents and community stakeholders have already taken the steps to advocate for policies like Rent Control and Community Benefits Agreements on major project developments.

Moving forward, we must do more to protect local residents and small businesses in neighborhoods that are quickly growing increasingly expensive. There must be decisions taken by legislatures to help maintain housing affordability, which can help long-term residents remain in their homes. There should also be a push to increase commercial affordability in order to allow local small businesses to have an opportunity to succeed in a changing market.

MPC is working on an exciting new tool that can guide the conversation around catalytic developments

There must be decisions taken by legislatures to help maintain housing affordability, which can help long-term residents remain in their homes. There should also be a push to increase commercial affordability in order to allow local small businesses to have an opportunity to succeed in a changing market.

For the past couple of months, I have been fortunate to work alongside colleagues at MPC on building a framework for a "community impact assessment tool." The idea of the data and advocacy tool, which came out of MPC’s Our Equitable Future report, is to give community stakeholders a resource to better understand the potential implications of a new catalytic development or investment on key areas of community concern, such as housing affordability and small business resiliency.

With that general objective in mind, MPC staff has been working in collaboration with the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University, to build off their existing data tool and expertise to join together some data components and an evaluative and policy intervention component into the framework of one toolkit.

We envision that as developments are moving forward in neighborhoods like Logan Square, Pilsen, or Woodlawn and Albany Park, community stakeholders can access this resource in discussing specific projects. This tool will allow community stakeholders to access data on important neighborhood characteristics and assets. After looking at that data, they will see a neighborhood risk-of-displacement index, a risk category, for that particular neighborhood. After going through the data components of the tool, community stakeholders could then access an assessment questionnaire and array of policy recommendations. The assessment questionnaire can guide community stakeholders and project developers in their discussion of the potential positive and negative impacts of a particular development, how that development aligns with community objectives and needs. Finally, based on the data and community assessment of the project, the tool can help direct community stakeholders to an array of targeted policy recommendations and interventions that can support them in proactively planning and advocating for more equitable outcomes with local decision makers. 

We can and must do better. We need to act fast and smart, as neighborhood change happens fast.

I grew up near Logan Square, a neighborhood that now looks completely different than when I was eating tamales with champurrado and visiting relatives. While the gleaming new high rises and expensive new restaurants are a step forward for some people, I know intimately what has been lost in Logan Square: a vibrant Hispanic community, long-time residents priced out of their homes, decades-old businesses shuttering their doors, a sad departure for thousands of Chicagoans who helped build Logan Square.

We can and must do better. We need to act fast and smart, as neighborhood change happens fast and many families are impacted. As I and the rest of the team continue to work on this tool, I believe that the "community impact assessment toolkit" can offer a way to guide community development conversations and get ahead of development that threatens longtime community members. It is possible to have development and investments thoughtfully incorporate community feedback, while at the same time making strives to create new investments in neighborhoods across the city. 

As I think about the families who have been impacted or are still struggling with the loss of housing affordability in Logan Square and Pilsen, I look forward to see this tool take its final form and help support equitable development in communities across the city.

Ruben Bautista is a King W. Harris Intern at MPC. 

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