"The creation of retail-oriented neighborhoods is paralleled in ethnic neighborhoods, but with a distinct difference. Ethnic neighborhoods are redeveloped in and around cultural symbols. This money comes from City Council approved ordinances provided to fund exterior improvement of homes and businesses in order promote development. With City money external developers encourage local businesses to announce and display the culture of neighborhood residents (Betancur, 2005)This is done to draw in outsiders who come as both spectators and consumers. Amenities, the physical or intangible benefits that render property more attractive, are the critical unit of analysis within ethnic neighborhood redevelopment. For example, Chicago’s Greektown features acropolis-like columns on Halsted Street to demarcate the entrance and exit points of the neighborhood, along with liberal amounts of Greek flags, Greek restaurants, Hellenic patterns laid into the cement on the sidewalk, and pseudo-ethnic stores, like Athenian Candle Company. Greektown demonstrates how “ethnic packaging is now working like art did – a way to anchor bohemian culture for an outside community looking for something unlike the suburbs” (Hackworth 2005, 220)."
Selling Chicago as a Global City: Redevelopment and Ethnic Neighborhoods
Chicago is in the dynamic process of redefining itself in the national and international urban hierarchy within the new era of globalization. Globalization in Chicago can be understood in multiple contexts. The following analysis reduces globalization to tangible processes of community revitalization in ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago. The Pilsen neighborhood will be used as a case example of how the city’s political economy and the rise of tourism are shaping the fate of its residents.
Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood is located on the city’s southwest side. Founded in 1878 by a settlement of Czech families who named their neighborhood after Pizen, a city in what is now the Czech Republic, Pilsen became home to a European immigrant community comprised of Poles, Croatians, Lithuanians, and Italians by the 1930s (Gramennos, Wilson and Wouters 2004). These ethnic groups came to work in the steel mills, meatpacking plants, and stockyards located in and around the neighborhood during Chicago’s industrial development. Pilsen emerged as a distinctly Czech area after Mayor John Wentworth instigated the “Battle of the Sands” campaign, which was launched on April 20, 1857 (Kearney 2008). The “Sands” was a growing Bohemian Czech neighborhood on Chicago’s Near North Side, and in order to contain the growth of this neighborhood, the mayor used the Chicago Police Department to displace Czech families. The police descended upon the neighborhood, “burning houses and beating and sometimes killing residents. The Bohemian population fled the neighborhood and settled south . . . in a neglected area of the city they named Little Pilsen” (Kearney 2008, 7). Spared by the Chicago Fire of 1871, Pilsen subsequently received another massive influx of residents, this time homeless families who had lost everything in the fire. Overcrowding quickly became an issue. It is estimated that in 1901, 7,000 people resided within just nine city blocks (XXX). As a consequence, many of the Protestant Churches in Chicago started Settlement Houses – such as Erie Neighborhood House, Howell Neighborhood House (now Casa Azatlan), and Gads Hill Center– to address social problems in the neighborhood.
Although Mexican workers employed by the railroad or by International Harvest began moving into Pilsen as early as the 1920s, it was not until the 1960s that the Mexican population Pilsen is now known for started to grow in great numbers. Between 1960 and 1980, the Mexican population of Pilsen and the adjacent neighborhood, known as Little Village, grew from 7,000 to more than 83,000 (Wight 2006). Several factors contributed to this increase. Richard J. Daley became Chicago’s Mayor in 1955 and collaborated with the University of Illinois at Chicago to build the West Loop campus in an area largely inhabited by Mexican families, leading them to migrate further south and west. Second, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (the Hart-Cellar Act), which led to the abolishment of nation-origin quotas. During the 1970s and 1980s, Mexico experienced a demographic explosion while simultaneously struggling with a drop in oil prices, high inflation, and mounting foreign debt. These “push” and “pull” factors of migration contributed to 18 million immigrants from Mexico entering the United States legally between 1965 and 1995, triple the amount admitted during the previous thirty years (Center for Immigration Studies 1995), and an estimated 485,000 immigrants from Mexico entering the United States illegally each year (Passel 2005).
While immigrant neighborhoods and ethnic enclaves have historically been viewed as overcrowded, decaying sites of contagious social pathology, often tagged as “ghettos,” “slums,” or “barrios” (Charles, 2000),” Pilsen is currently a target for development. Its low land-values, proximity to downtown, and connections to public transportation have made it attractive to developers. Perhaps more importantly, Pilsen has an identity that can be packaged and sold. It contains a colorful mixture of multi-family apartments, small cottages, flats, and commercial buildings, and many of its buildings have architectural adornments – such as cornices, pediments, and mansard roofs – that suggest the “old country.” There are several historic churches (St. Paul and St. Adelbert), and numerous mosaics and murals, in addition to Mexican bakeries, Mexican restaurants, and Mexican grocery stores, all of which are named after specific cities in Mexico. In recognition of the rich cultural history of the neighborhood, Pilsen was named a National Register Historic District on February 1, 2006. The National Museum of Mexican Art, located at the intersection of W. 19th Street and Wolcott, is the largest Latino arts institution in the country and the only accredited Latino museum according to the American Association of Museums. All of these cultural expressions and amenities create the sense of being in an authentic, “old world” neighborhood.