Motorcycle with Mexican and US flags outside Casa Aztlan

In 2015 I received a Fulbright Canada Scholar Grant as well as a SSHRC Insight Development Grant to travel to Chicago for several months and explore how activists in the Pilsen and Little Village communities were tackling the problem of gentrification on the heels of significant environmental justice victories.


Kern, Leslie. (In print, 2017). Mobilizing community identity to imagine just green enough futures: A Chicago case study. In W. Curran and T. Hamilton (Eds.) Just Green Enough: Urban Development and Environmental Gentrification. New York: Routledge.

Abstract: In two west side working class Latino/a Chicago neighborhoods – Pilsen and Little Village – recent environmental justice victories exist in tension with experiences of gentrification, displacement, racism, and poverty. This chapter examines the ways that powerful and competing discourses about history and identity emerge to shape the contours of what can be imagined for brownfield redevelopment. On one hand, notions of pride in the areas’ industrial heritage work alongside the claim that these are longstanding ‘port of entry’ neighborhoods for immigrants, naturalizing a just green enough future where desirable and trendy industry can still exist, but current racialized communities will inevitably be displaced as wealthier young professionals arrive. Grassroots activists seek to counter this narrative in order to assert a right to a say in redevelopment that will benefit existing residents. This chapter illustrates how community organizations denaturalize the ‘port of entry’ narrative, as well as the notion that change – specifically, gentrification – is an inevitable aspect of the port of entry story. The case study offers an opportunity to enhance just green enough strategies through understanding the role of place identity in shaping visions for just and sustainable redevelopment.

In progress:

Kern, Leslie and Kovesi, Caroline. (Submitted for review, 2017). Environmental justice meets the right to stay put: mobilizing against environmental racism, gentrification, and xenophobia in Chicago’s Little Village.

Abstract: After decades of fighting for clean air and green space in the face of environmental racism and urban disinvestment, Chicago’s Latinx Little Village neighbourhood has begun to see environmental improvements take place. Activists are wary of the potential for gentrification in the wake of clean up, and are advocating for the right to stay put in the community they have worked so hard to improve. These ongoing contestations have recently intersected with accelerating racialized state violence as renewed anti-immigrant and white supremacist rhetoric, policies, and actions have targeted Latinx communities. In this paper we ask, how do struggles against environmental racism, gentrification, and xenophobia interlock, and how does the framework of environmental justice serve to enable activism across all three sites? For racialized minority communities, repeated experiences of forced migration and displacement often mean that an anti-displacement ethos is particularly well-articulated and grounded in collective historical memory. Drawing on an extensive analysis of media materials complemented by archival research, fieldwork, and interviews with community organizers, this paper argues that tight linkages between environmental justice and anti-displacement principles inform community responses to multiple forms of structural racialized violence.