Pilsen: Explore ‘Coolest’ Neighborhood Through Photos, Fiction, Film

Pilsen is on Forbes' 12 Coolest Neighborhoods Around The World list, alongside other “up-and-coming" communities. 

Praised for attractions including its popular murals and “cutting-edge culture and art,” Pilsen is also the subject or setting of three books, as well as an inspiring documentary—so you can explore the neighborhood vicariously before you visit.

Brimming with photos, Chicago's Pilsen Neighborhood is a pictorial history of the Lower West Side community, home to immigrants past and present. I especially liked the "People of Pilsen" chapter, the photos of architectural treasures like Thalia Hall, and learning about the late union organizer Rudy Lozano, part of the community’s long activist tradition and the namesake for our Lozano Branch in Pilsen. 

For a fictional portrait of Pilsen, check out Painted Cities, a collection of short stories and vignettes by native son Alexai Galaviz-Budziszewski. Set primarily in the 1970s and '80s, the best of these impressionistic stories capture the unlikely friendships of childhood and the mysterious, sometimes puzzling world of adults—all amid the "fuming smokestacks" and bright murals of Pilsen. My personal favorite is “Freedom,” in which the narrator remembers his brief friendship with the late Buff, and the “house” they built on top of a deserted pierogi factory. (“The fantasy lasted three days.”)

Painted Cities is also available as an eBook. 

If you're a mystery fan, check out A Death in Pilsen, the third in a series by former Chicago Tribune writer Robert Goldsborough. Set after World War II and incorporating real people and events—like architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the Naperville train crash of 1946—the story's hero is Trib police reporter Snap Malek. In this hard-boiled mystery, he prowls the bars of his old neighborhood after his mild-mannered cousin is suspected of killing his British war bride.

Pilsen's changed a lot since 1946, as you can see for yourself in the inspiring film My Neighborhood Pilsen. This beautifully shot, fast-paced 2017 documentary portrays a close-knit community in which idealistic resident activists make their neighborhood better for all. Featured activists include Carmen Velásquez, founder of Alivio Medical Center; Anel Sancen, a passionate advocate for voter registration; and young Gilberto Sandoval, an aspiring artist and tour guide at the National Museum of Mexican Art, who lost a talented friend to heroin. Filled with people you’d like to know, the film will—I hope—inspire Chicagoans unfamiliar with Pilsen to pay a visit.

What's your favorite place in Pilsen?

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