See/Hear: Seeking the Urban ‘Authentic’ in Chicago’s Pilsen, A “Mexican Neighborhood without the Mexicans”
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As an effect of the globalized economy, the production of urban space in post-industrial cities is catalyzed by its consumptive opportunities rather than by its industrialized labor capacity. These consumptive opportunities represent a commodity and capital flow that redefine the neighborhood as a lifestyle product and inform the manifestation of its built environment while altering its social, political and economic networks. While lifestyle products may take different forms, the rise of a contemporary bohemia, colloquially associated with the “hipster,” is a symbol of an urban lifestyle product associated with a quest for “authenticity” found within the urban landscape. This authenticity is often sought in low-income, minority neighborhoods, whose political, social, economic and physical structures are transformed through the urban consumption process. This paper proposes a new model, the See/Hear method, to contextualize both quantitative and qualitative measures of the urban landscape, and to measure the degree of political, social, economic and physical change in an “authentic” neighborhood: Chicago’s Pilsen, a neighborhood transitioning from a working class, Mexican enclave into a wealthier, whiter neighborhood. The resulting analysis of Pilsen, consisting of visual and narrative components to produce a complete picture of place, reveals a neighborhood whose strong sense of place – for both long-term and newer residents – is susceptible to full-scale transformation as new demographic and capital flows move into the neighborhood and threaten its history of strong social, economic and political ties.
SubjectPilsen, Chicago, authenticity, urbanism, urban production, hipster, neighborhood, neighborhood development, See/Hear, community development, consumption