(The Center Square) – The Illinois legislature has created a new official state designation – Cultural District – to strengthen local neighborhoods and promote economic development.
State Rep. Delia Ramirez, D-Chicago, one of the sponsors of the legislation, said communities all across the state are invited to apply to be recognized with the “cultural district” designation.
“Neighborhood groups that have been working and preserving the legacy of their neighborhood can come together to apply for the cultural district designation with a specific plan for their area,” Ramirez said. “There are many neighborhoods throughout our state that have a rich, historical cultural identity. Becoming a cultural district will help them preserve their identity and culture while promoting tourism and development.”
In Ramirez’ Chicago District, the plan is to gain official state recognition for the Puerto Rico Town neighborhood, a specific grid of streets that includes Division Street.
The cultural district designation will enable community members to apply for resources that will help them support and maintain the Puerto Rican identity of the area, she said.
Without a plan and without strong community backing, Ramirez fears that much of the Puerto Rican character of the Division Street neighborhood will disappear within 10 years.
“That is what the census data shows,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez said that the program has the potential to breathe new life into communities that have been declining for years.
“It will be really interesting to follow how this designation can help communities – in some cases – recover,” she said.
The cultural district bill had wide backing in the state legislature, including support from Republicans. State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, was one of the chief co-sponsors of the bill, Ramirez said.
“For him, the distinct historic culture of Springfield would benefit from economic development and the support of entrepreneurship,” she said. “We really want to maintain and support distinct areas.”
Ramirez is excited to get started working on the program design in January, she said.
“We’ll be the first state in the entire country to do anything like this,” Ramirez said. “California has a specific designation for art districts. Our program is for all of a community’s cultural identity. We want to promote economic development and connect housing, the arts and education.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed SB 1833, which established the cultural district program, in August.
“This legislation helps protect the rich history of cultural communities across the state while providing them with the tools they need to grow and thrive,” the governor said in a statement.
The cultural district program will be managed by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO). In January, with the help of an advisory committee, DCEO will establish criteria and guidelines for the effort, DCEO Acting Director Sylvia Garcia said.
In addition to supporting economic growth and opportunity, the program’s goals include preserving local history and landmarks, supporting small businesses and encouraging cultural education.
October 15, 2021 at 10:31AM