"Chicago" by Carl Sandburg

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders

-excerpt from the poem "Chicago" by Carl Sandburg (1916)

Chicago Skyline

Chicago Skyline
The Chicago Skyline from a Near West Side highrise

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Most Dangerous Neighborhoods in Chicago/America

Interesting article from about six months ago.  WalletPop, a personal finance website, listed the 25 most dangerous neighborhoods in America for 2010.  The data comes from Neighborhood Scout which, according to the accolades on its website, and the information offered, seems pretty reputable.

So, why discuss this article?  Well, the reasons are twofold: because two Chicago "neighborhoods" are listed in the top 25, and because one of these two is apparently the most dangerous "neighborhood" in the entire United States.  Now, we use neighborhood in quotes because this study seems to create boundaries based upon data, rather than using geographically-designated neighborhoods or community areas.  For example, the most dangerous neighborhood in America is a small northwest section of the much-larger Near West Side community area.

This blog is intended to have mostly a positive focus on Chicago.  While this may not seem like the most positive topic, it's a topic that's certainly worth pointing out, and more importantly, worth discussing.

The Most Dangerous Neighborhood in the United States

Community Area: Near West Side
North Boundary: Kinzie Street/Rail Tracks
South Boundary: Washington Street
East Boundary: Damen Avenue
West Boundary: Western Avenue
Predicted Annual Violent Crimes: 297
(appx. 5-6 per week)
Odds of Becoming a Victim: 1 in 4
(citywide: 1 in 17)

The 18th Most Dangerous Neighborhood in the United States

Community Area: Grand Boulevard 
(Bronzeville neighborhood)
North Boundary: Pershing Road
South Boundary: 43rd Street
East Boundary: State Street
West Boundary: LaSalle Street/Rail Tracks
Predicted Annual Violent Crimes: 202 
(appx. 3-4 per week)
Odds of Becoming a Victim: 1 in 11 
(citywide: 1 in 17)

What does this all mean?  Well, first of all, Chicago gets the unlucky distinction of having the most dangerous neighborhood in America.  Does that make it worse than New York?  New York has a lower per capita violent crime rate than Chicago and didn't have any neighborhoods on the list.  Is it worse than Las Vegas?  Las Vegas had three neighborhoods on the list, two in the top five, the other at #8.  How about Atlanta?  They had four neighborhoods on the list.  And how about everybody's favorite whipping boy, Detroit?  Yup, they had none on the list.  Zip.  Zilch.  Zero.  In other words, the parts don't always speak for the whole.

What else does this mean?  Well, it means that Chicago is a big city.  And like just about every big city in the U.S., it has problem areas.  But things are improving.  Like in most major American cities, crime (especially violent crime) has gone down substantially in Chicago in the last couple decades.  Both the aforementioned areas of the city house mostly low income residents where crime unfortunately tends to be much more prevalent.

It would be interesting to see how these areas change over the next 10 years, once banks start lending money again, and (re)development strikes up once more.  The neighborhood ranked #1 on the list is bordered by the quickly gentrifying Ukranian Village to the north.  Just south of it is the United Center which used to be a part of town where people were afraid to park in public lots!  Now, go just east of the United Center down Madison and you're in a fairly trendy spot.  Go northeast of the United Center and you're heading towards Fulton Market, home to arguably Chicago's best restaurants.  Just west of this area is East Garfield Park, known as one of the more dangerous neighborhoods in the City by reputation.  That being said, just four years ago Business Week called East Garfield Park one of America's next hot neighborhoods.

Lastly, the areas chosen seem slightly arbitrary, and were likely chosen because of a high number of crime in the general vicinity as opposed to the entire neighborhood.  As stated above, the Near West Side has a LOT to offer residents and visitors.  Bronzeville is becoming more gentrified (understandably, some would argue this is a bad thing) and while the majority of new developments are occurring along the lake, that doesn't mean that Grand Boulevard is going to be ignored by developers, especially with its great access to the Green Line.  What is interesting about this area designated by Neighborhood Scout, is that about two-thirds of it is park space, whereas the residential area is clustered halfway between Pershing and 43rd.

So why bring this article to attention?  Well, because Chicagoans, and people from elsewhere, have seen this article.  The Windy City has never been able to shake its reputation for crime.  Supposedly it's not uncommon for Chicagoans to mention their hometown to Europeans and hear "Al Capone!" or see our Euro friends imitate the use of a tommy gun (fortunately for me, when I was there all I got was "Oh, Chicago Bulls!" and then what my friends think was a gypsy curse put on me when I failed to give those two Italian guys on the Spanish Steps money for tying a bow around my finger).  That being said, Chicago has made strides in lowering the crime rate.  But crime DOES happen.  That doesn't mean a resident or a tourist should be afraid to walk the streets at night; it just means to use common sense.  I can almost guarantee that next year's list will have a new #1, and that these two "neighborhoods" might not even be on the list.

I (Michael here) have never been to Grand Boulevard.  However, my friends and I have parked numerous times across the street from what's supposedly America's most dangerous neighborhood.  We've never been bothered.  I do still recall the night about a year ago when I walked along the western border of this area on my way to a Hawks game from the Western Avenue Metra station.  Mid-20s white kid with a backpack on, stopping at a gas station too.  One person stopped me.  "Hey man, wanna buy some smokes?"  "No thanks, buddy."  "All right, have a good evening, man."  Was making that trek the smartest thing I could have done?  No, I could have been patient and waited for the bus.  Would I do it again?  Probably not.  But experiencing it for myself, was I terribly uncomfortable in what is supposedly America's most dangerous neighborhood?  No, not really.

1 comment:

  1. I have worked at Leavitt & Fulton, right in "America's Most Dangerous Neighborhood" since 2005. I had no idea it could possibly be described as such. On the one hand I suppose I should accept the statistics but on the other my experience there makes it hard to believe.

    North of Lake Street those blocks are almost entirely industrial facilities or office lofts. South, there is a recent and quite nice looking public housing development. There is consistently hardcore homeless squatting underneath the train bridges crossing over the north/south streets. But to my experience it's just men sleeping and storing their stuff. They do not even panhandle there, really. I, myself, have bicycled in that neighborhood and walked in and out from all directions repeatedly and often quite late at night and never really felt unsafe or threatened.

    The streets do not seem well-to-do but they do not resemble at all those pockets of Englewood with a lot of board ups and broken glass everywhere. I can not recall witnessing the sort of bizarre public behavior one sees in Uptown or hearing gunfire like I often did Rogers Park.

    At a guess, those stats, if at all meaningful, may reflect hobo on hobo crime or a perhaps there has been a turf war over narcotics dealing in the blocks south of Lake Street. If such events occur it must be well after midnight when I am safe home in bed. I certainly do not think of it as an area where one is more likely to be mugged or attacked.

    If there is anything instructive to me in learning the statistical distinction given to that area it is that crime statistics must be an extremely poor predictor of what your experience will actually be in a given neighborhood.