Pilsen Portal Opens Door to a Neighborhood
Not long ago, there was no easy way to find out what events were happening around Pilsen, or what schools and community organizations were in the neighborhood. Small businesses had no clear way to reach out to people in the community, and those residents had to rely on word-of-mouth to find out about most local news.
The Portal page has carried stories on everything from property tax breaks in Pilsen’s historic district to the mix of Dia de los Muertos festivities in the neighborhood.
That all changed in July 2009 with the launch of the Pilsen Portal. A pilot program of LISC/Chicago’s Smart Communities Program, the portal was created by members of the Pilsen Planning Committee so that residents and visitors could learn what’s going on, look up local organizations, and submit their own news, opinions or calendar items.
People say it’s been a long time coming,” says Jaime Guzman, the program manager for Pilsen’s Smart Communities Program. “In Pilsen, we’ve been talking about a website like this for years, ever since the Pilsen Planning Committee was creating the Pilsen Quality-of-Life Plan. Everyone I talk with is definitely energized that the portal is up and running.”
Guzman works for The Resurrection Project (TRP), the lead agency for the Smart Communities Program, which also has led Pilsen’s implementation of LISC/Chicago’s New Communities Program (NCP), a comprehensive effort to revitalize 16 Chicago neighborhoods.
Quick growth, tons of content
In six months, the Pilsen Portal has run stories on everything from property tax breaks in Pilsen’s historic district to the mix of Dia de los Muertos festivities in the neighborhood. It has published a series of video interviews with local artists and another about local restaurants, created a web presence for dozens of local businesses and organizations, and promoted events like a resume workshop, Pilsen’s massive Fiesta del Sol festival and everything in between.
Restaurants and other businesses are listed in the Portal's directory, and some have reported noticeable foot traffic from people who say the Portal led to their doorstep.
Eric Young Smith
And people are paying attention. The first day of operation, the Pilsen Portal had 53 visits. By the six-month mark, the site had 4,800 visitors and more than 30,000 “page views.” A Facebook fan page dedicated to the Portal had more than 1,200 members as of January, extraordinary growth considering that group was formed only four months earlier.
People eager to learn more about businesses and nonprofits in Pilsen have made the directory listings one of the most popular spots on the site, and Guzman says that some firms are already seeing the results.
In fact, Studio One Tattoos on 18th Street, Pilsen’s main commercial thoroughfare, has gotten so many new customers who say they’ve heard about the business through the Portal that the proprietor gave Guzman a painting to say thanks. “In terms of economic development, I think this is already bringing in a lot of business and has the potential to do a lot more,” Guzman says.
“I think the business directory aspect is the most important to us,” says Kristine Mendes, the director of historic preservation at the Eighteenth Street Development Corporation, a local community development agency. “We have a printed directory, but this will let us get that information online. Most neighborhoods have a Chamber of Commerce that showcases the neighborhood, but in Pilsen we haven’t really had one central place.”
Since the content on the site primarily comes from submissions from local residents and institutions, exactly what will be covered on the Pilsen Portal is in many ways up to the community.
The open-ended editorial architecture of the Portal in many ways leaves its news content to the community, although an editorial advisory board will lend some structure.
Eric Young Smith
For example, students at local Benito Juarez Community Academy, working in conjunction with Assistant Principal Laura Lamone, have published several articles about events at the high school, including the annual Thanksgiving Day feast and a visit from author Jonathan Safran Foer.
“People know we’re able to provide local coverage that nobody else has, that isn’t covered by the mainstream media,” Guzman says. “A local woman, Martha Gonzalez, was killed by a hit-and-run driver, and we covered it and a peace march afterward. It was important to the community, and they could read about it on the Portal.”
With an entire, vibrant neighborhood to cover, there is almost no limit to what the Pilsen Portal will do. Plans are underway to add more directory listings, translate more stories into Spanish and widen the pool of contributors to the site. Guzman says the Portal could use more humor and capture different audiences, both those within the community and those interested in visiting Pilsen.
The Pilsen Planning Committee is also building an editorial advisory committee for the site, with representatives from a number of local organizations. Mendes, who will be on the committee, says that the site is a good supplement to the work the PPC is doing.
“I’m excited about all the other information we can get onto the site about Pilsen,” she says. “I’m glad that it’s there and that we can keep building on what’s been accomplished so far.”
Posted in Smart Communities News