PILSEN — Fearing that the proposed Paseo trail will accelerate gentrification in the neighborhood, Pilsen residents are asking the city to consider what the path might mean for the area.
Neighbors gathered Thursday night at La Catrina Cafe, 1011 W. 18th St., to discuss the Paseo, a planned 4-mile trail on old BNSF train tracks between Pilsen and Little Village.
The project is similar in scope to the 606, a multipurpose path on old train tracks that cuts through Humboldt Park and other North Side neighborhoods.
Neighbors worry the Paseo might also have a similar impact as the 606, which has Humboldt Park residents growing increasingly concerned with getting priced out of their neighborhood.
"It could force a lot of us to leave," said Corina Pedraza, co-director of the Pilsen Alliance. "This is an opportunity for us to think big. We know something is coming ... but this is our chance to say, 'What if? What if you build affordable housing with it.'''
In Humboldt Park, home prices near the 606 are climbing, and some have been bought by developers and made into apartments. Hundreds have taken to the 606 in protest, and community leaders are working on plans to help longtime residents stay in their homes.
The trail would begin at 16th Street and Sangamon and extend southwest all the way to Central Park Avenue. [City of Chicago]
Gentrification concerns are not new in Pilsen. But residents believe the Paseo would accelerate the issue, and they are hoping to get ahead of a potential problem before families are forced to leave.
Miguel Del Toral said the Paseo places improvement of Pilsen's "aesthetic value" above community issues like poverty, lack of health facilities and gentrification.
"These are tourist attractions," said Del Toral, a lifelong resident of Pilsen. "We are losing our mental health facilities, our affordable housing."
Others said the Paseo will have a practical impact on transportation, beautification and health of residents. Several cyclists at the forum said riding on Cermak Road and Blue Island Avenue is scary in terms of car traffic and road conditions, and a trail would be very beneficial.
The Paseo has some funds earmarked for its construction, and the city already has done cleanup and prep work on the tracks, which unlike the 606 are at street level, said Antonio Acevedo, a Pilsen resident who helped plan for the path. Construction could start next year, with the city holding official public hearings on the project in the spring, he said.
Most in the area expect the Paseo to be built. A more constructive conversation would be to prepare for it and help mitigate its effects on the neighborhood, residents said.
"I don't think we should stop progress," Jose Perez said. "We should educate people on how to stay in their homes."
Starting at 16th and Sangamon, the planned Paseo will lead to Cermak Road and follow Blue Island Avenue and 26th Street southwest all the way to Central Park Avenue.
The trail was first proposed in 2006, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel and city planners announced plans to build it in March of this year.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here.