Pilsen’s Next Chapter

Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, and one of the best examples of this designation is the community of Pilsen. Part of the heart of the lower west side, Pilsen is a neighborhood rich in diversity and history. For over 150 years, Pilsen served as a sort of “port of entry” for Chicago’s Eastern European immigrants; today, it is home to a mix of the creative class, students and Mexican-American families. Adding to the modern-day mix of cultures is the neighboring Heart of Chicago, home to the city’s Italian community. Pilsen’s immigrant and working class legacy informs much of its appeal – housing stock is both affordable and diverse, with a mix of apartments, condos and single family homes. Streets are quiet. Retail and food options are unique and affordable. Pilsen may seem like it’s worlds away from the downtown skyline visible in the distance, but it’s only three miles southwest of the Loop. For all these reasons – and more – recent Census statistics and university studies show Pilsen isn’t the first port of entry for immigrants any more – in fact, it’s losing many of its immigrant families as its charms attract Chicagoans interested in its proximity to downtown, many retail and restaurant options, and diverse housing stock. Lately, Pilsen’s been making headlines as much for new development proposals as for anti-gentrification efforts. But these growing pains are typical for any neighborhood experiencing new development and demographic change, change that is spurred on in many parts by what makes the neighborhood such a special place to live for so many of its residents. It’s just another chapter in Pilsen’s long history of evolution.


One of the most famous and colorful perks of visiting and living in Pilsen are the colorful murals that adorn many storefronts and walls, and the public artworks on most street corners. The creative community is alive and well here. Galleries flourish as part of the Chicago Arts District, which encompasses multiple blocks of Pilsen and provides a place for artists to live and work. The best time to experience this is on 2nd Fridays Gallery Night, when visitors can tour over 30 lofts, galleries and retail spaces to get an inside glimpse of the thriving art scene. Another cultural gem is the National Museum of Mexican Art, one of the largest Latino cultural organizations in the U.S. It’s a testament to an illustrious Mexican culture, with a 6,000 piece permanent collection, rotating exhibits and performing arts showcases. Finally, no exploration of Pilsen would be complete without a stop at Thalia Hall. A stunning late-19th century community hall re-established and renovated in 2013, Thalia Hall is one of Chicago’s best performance venues and has inspired much of the buzz about the neighborhood. Thalia Hall’s reinvention has introduced Pilsen to a whole new generation of Chicagoans, and given them a glimpse of what makes the neighborhood so unique.


According to Walk Score, Pilsen is the 21st most walkable neighborhood in Chicago, with a walk score of 88, transit score of 65 and bike score of 83, putting it just ahead of neighborhoods like Logan Square and Roscoe Village. Dotted with both pink and blue El stops, Pilsen has good transportation options, in addition to its proximity to major highways.


Pilsen’s working class legacy is apparent in its housing stock – a mix of bungalows and single family homes, right alongside rentals and some condos. Lofts are also common throughout the neighborhood, in many cases doubling as work-live space for Pilsen’s creative class. New developments are working their way through the approval process – a blend of mixed-use redevelopment of old warehouses and shiny new apartment towers, spurred, in part, by the anticipated Paseo Trail, Chicago’s next adaptive reuse of an old BNSF rail line that is slated to connect Pilsen with Little Village. The 4-mile bicycle and walking path is under construction currently, but will include gathering spaces, gardens and public art celebrating the neighborhoods Latino culture. As you might expect, the Paseo Trail has drawn comparisons to the 606, which ignited a housing boom (and increased prices) in Wicker Park, Bucktown, Logan Square and Humboldt Park. However, city officials have been quick to assure the community that housing affordability would be preserved for longtime residents, and any new developments would have to set aside units for affordable housing. Commercial spaces reflect the diversity of Pilsen’s residents. Here, you can find everything from offbeat vintage shops and independent coffee shops, to contemporary galleries and award-winning restaurants like Dusek’s Board & Beer, right next to Mexican panaderías, taquerías and bodegas. Pilsen’s melting pot of community members – from multi-generational residents to new faces – has made it an attractive place to live for many years. Its next evolution – in whatever shape that takes – promises to further its reputation as a cultural hub and quintessential Chicago community.