Led by WPB, neighborhoods increasing opportunities, spaces for artists; encouraging environmental pursuits; working to maintain individuality.

When Red Hen Bread opened in the mid-1990s, the only other business along that stretch of Milwaukee Avenue was a carwash, remembers owner Robert Picchietti.

The area — home to one of the largest emerging art districts in the country and a thriving underground culture — was cool, said Picchietti, but nasty. Storefronts were boarded up. Prostitutes and junkies staked out the nearby six-corner intersection of Milwaukee, Damen and North avenues. Drunks threw bottles at shop windows when bars closed at 2 a.m.

But over the last decade or so, Picchietti has watched Bucktown and neighboring Wicker Park grow more mainstream and prosperous, changing from a hipster hangout into a hip shopping district with trendy restaurants and designer boutiques. Yet the neighborhood has an edge, with many of the businesses — resale shops, used bookstores and nightclubs — that gave the area its flavor still around, he said.

“I kind of like the gritty,” he said.