The Heart of Humboldt Park

Family at Humboldt Park lagoon
Family moment captured at the Humboldt Park lagoon.

By Lynda Lopez

It is easy to become disillusioned with the state of gentrification in our communities. It is a relentless force that seeks to destroy the core of communities of color. Humboldt Park is one of these areas undergoing this transition.

All around the community, you see signs of change. $900,000 single-family homes are going up on Humboldt Boulevard. New construction and renovations are occurring at every block. It’s tough not to become hopeless as faceless developers bear their brands on signs throughout the community. Wilmot, one of the names rebranding Humboldt Park, has been the target of local protests.

But in the midst of the hopelessness comes hope.

With the summertime in full bloom, I have been spending a lot of time walking and biking around the neighborhood, particularly the park. Stretching from North Avenue to Augusta Boulevard from Kedzie Avenue to California Avenue, the park is the center of the community. Recent struggles have taken shape around the park, underscoring its significance for community members.

Last year, residents banded together to fight against the encroachment of the park by Riot Fest, a music festival that overstayed its welcome. That spring, there was also an uproar against the closure of the historic Humboldt Park beach. Due to the organizing by local residents, the beach is set to open this July.

Walking around the park, you quickly come to understand why residents have fought so hard to maintain access to the park; it’s a sacred space. Fathers fish with their sons at the lagoon. Grandmas sit with their granddaughters showing them the geese in the water. Elderly men take siestas under the trees. At every corner of the park, men sit playing chess and engaging in conversations that run the course of the day. People of color unapolegetically make this space their own. Puerto Rican flags can be seen waving from tree branches, a symbol of what the park represents.

While there may be luxury single-family homes being constructed on Humboldt Boulevard, the park still belongs to the people. Humboldt Park is more than just a neighborhood that is gentrifying. Being in the park fills me with hope for the possibility of the community retaining its vibrant Puerto Rican identity and remaining home for many other people of color. Strolling down Division Street, I see a people with pride of culture and space. I see a people that exhibit resistance by their mere presence. 

When we take a look at some of the historically Latinx neighborhoods throughout the city undergoing gentrification, we note the ones with this profound adherence and interconnectedness with culture have been able to retain some of their Latinx identity. Being unapologetic about who we are is resistance.

It sometimes may seem that we have no control over our communities, but there is a lot of power in a neighborhood that is unapologetic about its identity and is unafraid to claim its space. One must only walk around the park to realize that not all is lost and there is a lot to fight for. The heart of a community cannot be broken by bulldozers and wrecking balls. It is an intangibility, a connectivity running deeper than what money can destroy. This interconnection is bearing the fruits of resistance and is a force to be reckoned with.