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Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards

Plans To Modernize Little Village’s Industrial Corridor Stir Concerns Among Residents

The city wants to address health, environment, land use, transportation and sustainability, but residents are worried it's being done with little community input.

Gerardo Garcia of the Department of Planning and Development presents data on patterns and trends of the Little Village industrial corridor.
Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
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LITTLE VILLAGE — The City of Chicago is looking to modernize the industrial area in Little Village, trying to keep jobs flowing in the neighborhood while also balancing health, environment and traffic concerns.

It’s a long, detailed process with a host of public and community agencies weighing in. But some residents argue there’s not enough input from them.

Last week, city officials laid out a timeline for plans to modernize the industrial corridor during three community meetings in Little Village.

The Chicago Department of Planning and Development and representatives from the Department of Transportation, and Department of Public Health unveiled a seven-month process at Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez Elementary School, 3000 S. Lawndale Ave., to gather residents’ feedback on data analyzing history, patterns and trends of the Little Village industrial corridor.

The process, which began in March, has incorporated two working groups made up of 12 community organizations, city agencies and institutions that met in April and June. The working groups — aimed at gathering information and feedback from organizations and stakeholders — consisted of Carpenters Local 51, Chicago Department of Public Health, Chicago Department of Transportation, Enlace Chicago, Esperanza Health Centers, Hilco, Latinos Progesando, Lawndale Business Renaissance Association, Little Village Chamber of Commerce, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, OPEN Center for the Arts, and Openlands.

The Department of Planning and Development aim to gather community input from last week’s meeting to “develop a framework” and plan for the area beginning in September.

Additional community meetings will be held in September to present the framework and solicit final community input. The Department of Planning and Development will present their final plan for the industrial corridor in October.

“Our objective is to present to you background data that the Department of Planning has been analyzing for several months now, and also explain…what the project scope is, what the industrial corridor modernization involves,” Gerardo Garcia, coordinating planner at the Department of Planning and Development, said.

Garcia said the agency aims to address health and the environment, land use, transportation, and sustainability in the framework of the modernization plan.

“In 2016, the Department of Planning and Development began evaluating Chicago’s 26 industrial corridors to better understand the industrial marketplace and understand what trends were going on within the industrial corridors to keeps them as employment centers,” Garcia said.

Garcia and fellow officials from the city’s department of planning and development presented their findings to 40 residents Thursday evening.

Credit: Mauricio Peña/Block Club Chicago
Residents listen to data presented by city officials Thursday in Little Village.

Garcia said, “the plan aims to maintain Little Village industrial corridor as an employment center, provide better access for all modes within and around the Little Village Industrial Corridor, and incorporate best practices for new development within the LVIC to improve economic environmental and social conditions.”

Among their findings, the Department of Planning and Development said the industrial businesses made up the largest type of business in the area, at 24.7 percent, transportation — freight trucks — was second at 21.9 percent.

Garcia said, the data collected by the agency, which employs roughly 5,000 people, saw a 44 percent increase from 2002 to 2015.

Moving and storage of goods and materials, construction and utilities increased by 89 percent, while business support services increased by 130 percent, Garcia said

During the meeting, Dave Graham, assistant commissioner of Chicago Department of Public Health, expressed concerns about asthma and other health-related breathing problems but said the prevalence found in  South Lawndale was “similar to the rest of the city.”

“You cannot say for the activities that are happening are causing this but it’s a concern,” Graham said.

However, in 2002, Harvard School of Public Health estimated the annual health impacts caused by pollution from the Fisk and Crawford coal plants in the area. According to the Tribune, the study attributed pollution from the plants to 41 premature deaths, 550 emergency room visits, 2,800 asthma attacks and 36,000 minor restricted activity days. 

Following the presentation, Garcia and city officials had residents give feedback via post-it notes and ask questions to public officials at designated stations.

Richard Juarez, 27,  suggested an exclusive route for semi-trucks to alleviate the traffic and health concerns with the trucks passing through residential neighborhoods.

“Our streets are not built for that type of traffic,” the Little Village resident said, who has seen a surge in diesel trucks flooding the streets especially along 31st street.

Little Village resident Charles Lopez expressed concerns about the timeline for the Department of Planning and Development’s planning and feedback process.

“This process started in March, which included community organizations of 15 to 20 people, however, the community wasn’t included until late August with this plan that’s expected to be finished in October,” Lopez said. 

Lopez attended two of the three meetings which he said had a total of  “60 residents, in a community of 80,000 people.”

“That’s not really having a community meeting that’s the illusion of having a community meeting,” Lopez said. “I think it’s ridiculous.”

The 38-year-old expressed frustration with how the city was gathering feedback through post-it notes, rather than an open forum. 

“I see it more as a muzzling technique to keep the community quiet so they don’t have to deal with peoples energy or anger, especially after having the Crawford plant cause disease in the children of Little Village,” Lopez said.”We are just recovering from [the Crawford Plant] and now they just want to slap this thing together.”