Nick Gerber for KOVAL: Innovation in Pilsen


This month, KOVAL has been exploring groundbreaking innovation in technology, design, business, infrastructure, and beyond. After stumbling across the Tumblr page for Chicago-based photographer Nick Gerber, we we thrilled to join forces and work with him to capture what we believe to be a neighborhood experiencing an innovative resurgence: Pilsen. 

Nestled (roughly) south of 16th Street, east of Western Ave, west of the Chicago River's south branch, and north of the Stevenson Expressway, Pilsen was originally settled by German and Irish immigrants before Czech immigrants began to inhabit the neighborhood in the mid-19th century. They named the area after Plzen, a city in what is now the Czech Republic. Other ethnic groups from the Austro-Hungarian empire joined shortly after, and many of the residents worked in the surrounding stockyards and factories. 

The Eastern European influence remains present in the architecture and culture, but the neighborhood grew to boast one of the city's most predominant Hispanic communities in the 1960s. 

Now, Pilsen is a unique, vibrant melting pot of culture and history. It's home to one of Chicago's largest arts districts on Halsted Street, some of the city's most authentic Mexican panaderias and restaurants, contemporary dining and entertainment, vintage shops, and cultural institutions like the National Museum of Mexican Art. 



"Pilsen feels alive and super vibrant. People are happy and excited to talk about their community. They're proud of what they've built and they're realists about what gentrification can be. There are new businesses springing up next to places that have been around for decades. New great cuisine coexisting with restaurants that serve authentic regional Mexican food. It's fiercely proud of it's origins, but excited to inject fresh life onto the streets," said Nick.




"At Comet Vintage (above), Jamie told us that when she and her business partner, Jen, opened their store 4 years ago they were welcomed by the other stores on the block and now that they've become established, they're really excited to give that same energy to people who are opening new spots now."



"Danny, who was cutting hair at Lucky's, told us that it's a different place than the one he grew up in - that instead of gang graffiti there is public art and where 18th street used to feel dangerous, it feels like a thriving community with families, cool businesses and great food."


"At Simone's we ate delicious chicken wings and drank great drinks while having lively discussions with their bartenders, servers and patrons. Everyone was happy we were there - talking about their spot, and sharing where we should check out in the neighborhood next."

To see more photos from Pilsen, visit KOVAL's Tumblr page. To see more of Nick's work, visit his website