CHICAGO — Six months after an implosion at the old Crawford Coal Plant covered Little Village in dust, activists and environmental groups are drawing attention to the massive distribution center Hilco is building with a new tool — a billboard.
The billboard, stationed near the Exchange 55 site at 33rd and Pulaski, shows a little girl in a mask as a diesel truck drive by and reads: “Exchanging coal for diesel doesn’t save her lungs. #Exchange55 #FueraHilco.”
As part of a $100 million redevelopment plan Hilco Redevelopment Partners is building a one-million-square-foot distribution center for Target. Activists are concerned the warehouse will bring many more polluting diesel trucks to Little Village, a neighborhood already inundated by truck traffic from nearby industry.
The billboard also encourages to sign a petition opposing the warehouse or to text “LVEJO” at 69866 to learn more.
Multiple representatives for Hilco could not be reached.
Karen Canales Salas with the Little Village Justice Organization said the health of Little Village residents have been put at risk after the demolition disaster. A barrage of diesel truck traffic will continue to put neighbors at risk.
“Our lungs will continue to be the first filters of the diesel particulate matter,” Canales Salas said. “Our lungs have all been victims of air pollution.”
She said the city has done very little “to hold polluting industries accountable.”
“It’s disgusting that [these actions] continue to be approved as long as the price is right. Our community is not for sale,” she said.
In a virtual town hall in September, Mayor Lori Lightfoot defended the city’s actions earlier this year that allowed the controversial demolition of a former coal plant smokestack in Little Village and said her administration has taken the proper steps so that “anything like this can’t happen again.”
“The fault lies in the developer,” she said.
Jocelyn Vazquez-Gomez, a second-year college student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, called on the city city to monitor the air quality in Little Village as work at the site continues amid a pandemic.
“Little Village residents are struggling to breathe by having one of the worst air quality,” Vazquez-Gomez said. “ It’s obviously impacting our public health as we’re seeing an increase of asthma rates and other respiratory system illness … Hilco shouldn’t be in the community, their building is not wanted here.”
Kocoy Malagón, a Discount Mall vendor and member of the Juntos for La Villita community group, said Little Village doesn’t need new retail and infrastructure to support giant companies like Target. The Little Village Discount Mall was recently sold and its fate is unknown.
“We want to let them know that the community of Little Village does not want a retail store like Target, because in reality we don’t need it,” Malagón said. “We are the discount mall. Beside being a business, we are a culture.”
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