This coming September, 110 years of making electricity out of coal will come to an end in Pilsen with the closing of the Fisk power plant, and options must be considered to replace it. According to a Pilsen Alliance survey of several hundred Pilsen residents, the top neighborhood redevelopment choices for the site are green areas, and educational and recreational uses.
Respondents evaluated the availability of Living Wage Jobs poorly, a situation that will not improve with the closing of the plants. To neighbors, this calls for making the creation of Living Wage Jobs another redevelopment priority.
“Most people we spoke to would like the Fisk site redevelopment to prioritize living wage jobs and green public space,” said Rosalie Mancera, Pilsen Alliance board member. “What matters now is to keep going until some of the ideas materialize.”
In a survey of 392 people conducted by Pilsen Alliance in June, respondents were asked to pick two choices from a given list. 50 percent of those consulted said they would like to see green space replace the Fisk plant. The second preference went to educational and cultural uses with 42 percent, and the third to sports and recreation with 37 percent. When people were asked to rate the state of certain issues in the community, only 5 percent considered Living Wage Jobs to be doing excellent, the lowest evaluation.
The community’s feedback is consistent with views shared by residents in other forums and with governmental data about Pilsen today. According to Friends of the Parks, Pilsen has a shortage of park space of between 21.4 percent and 57.1 percent. Similarly, a low evaluation of Living Wage jobs may be a reflection of Pilsen unemployment, which doubled between 2000 and 2010.
The sites are currently zoned for industrial use, a category that increases the possibilities of bringing new jobs to replace the ones lost. Midwest Generation, owner of the Fisk and Crawford plants, indicated recently that 160 jobs will be terminated with the closure of the plants, 130 at the sites and 30 at the Bolingbrook headquarters.
Although restrictions of time and resources did not allow for statistical sampling and scientific design, community leaders set 350 surveys as the goal for the three and a half week process. The 350 figure represents roughly 1 percent of the 35,769 Pilsen residents, according to the Census 2010.
The survey utilizes a random sampling of Pilsen residents and was created in house from discussions with members, academics and other organizations about the purposes described above. Since the aim was to elicit the greatest possible number of responses, the survey was designed so that participants could be able to respond wherever they had the option, with or without a survey taker. The survey contained eight questions, including space to write comments, and was available in English and Spanish.
With the decommission of the Fisk and Crawford plants at the end of the year, potentially more than 100 acres of land on the bank of the Chicago River will open for redevelopment. The survey was meant to get the community’s input and to inform the work of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Fisk and Crawford Reuse Task Force, convened to evaluate possible reuses for the sites. Pilsen Alliance’s executive director is part of the Task Force.