A Chicago Neighborhood Shows Preservation Isn’t One-Size-Fits All

A battle over Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood has spotlighted the nuances around preservation. To preserve existing affordable housing and prevent displacement, the city’s Department of Planning and Development proposed turning the neighborhood into a historic district. But there’s not much data on whether designating historic districts addresses displacement, and residents—many of whom are Latinx—argued the plan wouldn’t protect their community or culture and could saddle them with additional costs to conform to district’s design standards. “The historic district could only protect the buildings, not the people,” said alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez. “That’s why the community didn’t want the district.” Di Gao, senior director of research and development at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, believes preservation should partner with community organizations. “Historic preservation has an enormous responsibility to be a force for social justice in communities,” says Gao. “There is a lot of legacy within the field where it seems like preservation was created to primarily preserve grand legacies of elite, white men,” she says.

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