When gentrification efforts by real estate developers and specualtors threatened the integrity of a long standing Puerto Rican community in Chicago's Humboldt Park, The community organized against the threat using models of participatory democracy to develop and execute their struggle for self-preservation and self-determination. The following article and related links describe their efforts and the participatory philosophy and practices behind them. - Editor
Who should determine the future of a community? In our complex world, this seemingly simple question is rarely posed, and even more rarely answered. However rare, I believe that the overwhelming consensus, and the only ethical response, would be that a community should determine its future. But like all systems of oppression, the forces of colonialism and its urban overseer, gentrification– continue to contradict our ethical sensibilities.
In Chicago’s Humboldt Park/ West Town area, gentrification is threatening the future of the Puerto Rican community. Gentrification, a process of spatial de-concentration, destroys inner city communities (often of color) through various methods. Without so much as a vote or an opinion poll, developers and speculators are attempting to determine what is to become of Humboldt Park. Obsessed with the construction of luxurious condominiums, they have developed strategies to displace the long-time residents of area. As property taxes rise, so do rent costs, resulting in more and more families being economically forced out, against their will. Still more, gentrification does not end with displacement; it continues with the confiscation and subsequent obliteration of a community’s legacy.
The recent and repeated attempts to obstruct the oldest Puerto Rican mural in Chicago with a condominium, teaches us how this process destroys community symbols, public art, and popular culture. This lesson is driven home further with the example of Lincoln Park, which was once a vital Puerto Rican community but today has lost all vestiges of this history; ask anyone in Lincoln Park today about that fact and you will realize how gentrification erases history.
For over 40 years, Humboldt Park has been synonymous with Puerto Ricans. Here, like no other place in Chicago, this area has been the focal point of Puerto Rican activity– culturally, politically, and economically. In a sense, this area is akin to Boston’s Villa Victoria and New York City’s Spanish Harlem. Being one of the largest Puerto Rican communities outside of New York City, Humboldt Park boasts a long Puerto Rican history, including the yearly celebration of the Fiestas Patronales and Puerto Rican People’s Parade, which grew out of the 1966 and 1979 Division Street “riots” (rebellions). The most recent of these historic developments has been the establishment of Paseo Boricua and the movement to build a stable, viable, and autonomous Puerto Rican community.
“Paseo Boricua,” the term that affectionately refers to Division Street between California and Mozart, is marked by the two towering Puerto Rican flags erected in 1995.2 Vigilantly cognizant of the movement of gentrifying forces displacing Puerto Ricans from Wicker Park and most of West Town, community organizers established Paseo Boricua to be the anchor of the Puerto Rican community, el barrio boricua.
Along with the transformation of Division Street into a cultural-economic corridor, community efforts have resulted in the organization of a community-wide revitalization plan known as the Humboldt Park Empowerment Partnership (HPEP), as well as the formation of the Puerto Rican Agenda. In particular, the Puerto Rican Agenda, an ad-hoc committee made up of professionals, students, community activists, and local politicians, has worked tirelessly to help maintain and stabilize the Puerto Rican community.
Together, these organized bodies have developed numerous strategies; for example, several new programs seek to increase home ownership and affordable housing, while other programs address health and employment needs. This reclamation of space, both geographical and cultural, is all the more impressive when understood within the socio-economic context of this Puerto Rican community. As an internally colonized people, the Puerto Rican community suffers from astronomical dropout rates, high levels of drug and alcohol abuse, rampant gang violence, poverty and unemployment. Though the challenge is great, community efforts have made substantial inroads in addressing these needs and strengthening its economic infrastructure. Lamentably, however, gentrification is a persistent foe.
Armed to the teeth with outside financial and political force, gentrification has begun to displace many Humboldt Park residents. In actuality, Puerto Ricans, once the majority group, have suffered over the course of the last decade a significant population decline.3 Nevertheless, as history has proven, Puerto Ricans are determined to remain in Humboldt Park.
A new initiative of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center (PRCC), a long time beacon of resistance, is focused on further engaging residents by posing the following question: who is to determine our fate in el barrio? The PRCC, espousing the concept of participatory democracy, believes that this question can only be answered and fulfilled by the collective participation of the community. Without increased participation in community development– gentrification will not be stopped.... To read full article click HERE...