Common Sense Advice / Sketchy Neighborhoods, Chicago
I've lived in Chicago all of my life. Travelers, please understand that all neighborhoods within the city have their good and bad points. Just because you're staying in a fancy hotel on Michigan Avenue doesn't mean you cannot get robbed. Walking in an allegedly "bad" neighborhood doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to come to harm. Just like anywhere else, It's a matter of paying attention to your surroundings, and not being careless. If you follow the "avoid these areas" advice, you'll miss out on some true jewels such as Edna's Sout Food Restaurant, Buddy Guy's Legends, Ford City Shopping Center, Windy City Boxing Gym, Garfield Park Conservatory, etc., not to mention a whole lot of summer neighborhood festivals and off-the-beaten path attractions.
Going from North Michigan to Chicago Street on east, just after a few blocks I found myself in completely different and, I would say, questionable neighbourhood. Deserted flats, lot of broken windows, obscure faces etc.Lot of signs to first-time walker to turn back and leave the area as soon as possible. Maybe I was wrong, but I tell you - I felt pretty uncomfortable on East Chicago Street just a few blocks from Magnificent Mile.
Chicago is becoming a much safer place to visit! The homocide rate is the lowest in 40 years as of 12-04.
Chicago garnered the nation's highest murder rate across the nation in 2001, and Mayor Daley vowed to change that.
With $3.5 million in funds seized from drug dealers, he started "Operation Disruption". Daley had top officials visit Los Angeles and New York to gather crime fighting tips, and has installed crime fighting cameras in areas with gang, drug and homicide problems.
The high tech, $38,000, bulletproof cameras sit high atop light poles, and emit a blue flashing light as they film activities up to 4 blocks away. They also have sensors that detect gunshots, which automatically sends a 911 message to the station sending patrol cars to the area.
As a tourist in Chicago, if you find yourself in an area with these cameras, then you know you are in a "Blue Light District" and it would probably be a good idea to leave the area.
The good thing about these cameras is that Chicago cops can sit in their patrol cars and watch activities on their laptops from a mile away. They have also helped in lowering the murder rate to the lowest in 40 years, below 500 homicides. (1992 was the highest murder year with 940 homocides.)
Narcotic crimes are down 76%
Property crimes are down 46%
Serious crimes are down 17%
The only crime in Chicago that has not dropped this past year is Motor Vehicle Theft which is up by 1%.
There are plans to add an extra 250 new cameras funded by a $5 million Homeland Security Grant. All cameras should be up by 2006.
So breathe easy, Chicago is becoming a much safer city to visit.
Many restaurants and other interesting places are out of the mainstream. Here we are walking north on Franklin Ave. towards the restaurant MK. You can see the building on Michigan Ave in the distance. In the day you will be fine in this area just north of the main gallery area, but at night you might want to use more caution.
If you're a tourist in Chicago, seeing all the tourist sites--Sears Tower, Navy Pier, Museum Campus, etc.--you'll be in the safest neighborhoods in the city. There are many warnings on this site about avoiding other neighborhoods like Chinatown, the whole South Side, West Side, Cabrini Green, and other projects. But there is really nothing to fear.
Chinatown has long been a popular neighborhood for locals and tourists alike, so you will never be alone. Additionally, it has friendly people, and great shops and restaurants.
Most of the tourist attractions on the South Side--University of Chicago and Museum of Science and Industry--are located in Hyde Park, a culturally-flourishing neighborhood, one of the most diverse in the city.
Other South Side attractions--the Garfield Park Conservatory, DuSable Museum, or U.S. Cellular Field--are located in other, so-called "bad" neighborhoods, but parking is a breeze, and odds are you won't be spending too much more time in those neighborhoods anyway, so don't worry about it.
The West Side of Chicago houses a predominantly-Hispanic neighborhood, one that is rich with culture (and great food), and should not be missed just because you won't find rich, white people living there.
As for the housing projects, city efforts are underway to improve those areas, but in the meantime, don't worry if you happen to drive through one. There aren't any popular tourists sites there, so you probably won't find yourself there, but if you do, just proceed with the same caution you use in any neighborhood and you'll be fine.
Sure, you can have a good time seeing all the popular tourist attractions in the city, but If you follow all the warnings on this site, you'll miss out on a lot of great things Chicago has to offer.
Chicago is NOT a dangerous city. I have lived here for close to twenty years and I have never once been so much as threatened. Like any other big city anywhere in the world, it pays to use common sense. Don't walk around with cash hanging out of your pockets or more expensive camera equipment than you can use and safely protect. Keep your wallet (and passport) in an inside pocket or your purse looped around your shoulder. Keep your eyes open. Don't go to neighborhoods you know nothing about without checking with friends (or your hotel) first. There are neighborhoods I have never been to and have no intention of ever visiting, armed or not! Just remember, Al Capone, Jake McGurn, Bugs Moran, John Dillinger, and all the others are dead. And they never bothered tourists anyway!
I felt pretty safe in Chicago. It occured to be a clean city and I didn't mind to walk around at night. Sure, there are not so good areas in different parts of the city. But my overall impression was positive. Just keep out of South Chicago. That is where most of the worse neighborhoods are located.
I've lived in Chicago (Elmhurst) for about 19 months and I've been to more places in the city than people who have lived here for 40 years. I've been to and thru many supposedly bad neighborhoods in the city, during the day and night. I've cruised down Martin Luther King Drive between Chinatown and 103rd, Halsted from Cabrini all the way to Sibley, Division from Cabrini to Pulaski, The "K"'s, Western from Morgan Park to 159th, Cottage Grove and Lake Park Ave down thru Chatham and Pullman neighborhoods, and many more. I've been thru all those places on weekends, late at night, and in the summer, stopped at those infamous chicken, rib, fish joints to get food, and never had anybody bother me once. I wonder why that is? I'm white, I'm from Kansas, I definitely didn't belong down in those areas.
Maybe I'm just lucky, or maybe it has something to do with me looking like an NFL fullback, or maybe it has something to do with how I acted. I got an extremely valuable piece of info from a couple of friends of mine who happen to be native residents of those areas. They told me that all you have to do is pretend like you know exactly what you are doing and where you are going, and don't care or even appear to notice what is happening around you. Sounds simple, right? It works, I've tried it many times. I'm not suggesting that you do what I have done and voluntarily venture into the areas mentioned above. I am saying that they are only as bad as the amount of fear that you have and SHOW. God knows I was quite fearful at times, but nobody knew it. People will leave you alone if you mind your own business and stay out of theirs.
Be careful, be courteous, and enjoy the exciting diversity the Chicago has to offer. It is an amazing experience!
If you, or anyone you know, or the son or daughter of anyone you know is considering law school--don't do it!
I spent three miserable years at the Northwestern Law School (a top 10 ranked law school, by the way, who's alums include John Paul Stevens, Harold Washington and zrim) and what is the payoff? You get to be a lawyer (now there's a thrill).
If you want to make truckloads of money, go to business school. If you want to help people, become a teacher. If you want to argue a lot, become a rug merchant. But for the love of god--stay away from law school.
Okay, if you wear jeans and gym shoes, and have a camera wrapped around your neck...you are a prime target for pickpockets. In all my 10 years living in the city, I have never had this happen to me. Try and blend in by dressing well and looking confident.
There are many good con artists in the city. One of the old lines is "my car got towed and my wallet was inside and I cannot get it out of the impound lot-can you lend me $5, $10, etc dollars?" Well, no. If you have your keys, the attendants will let you in your car to get your wallet. Don't fall for any sob stories, there are many variations of this story.
If you have a rental car, beware the parking tickets! I have paid so many parking fines in my 10 years downtown! I am sure the money spent on fines would be one heck of trip to Europe. Sad but true. They get you for minor infractions, so be careful!
There are parts of Chicago that are not so safe for tourists. Parts of the Chicago's Southside are kind of rundown and are not that touristy (except for example, the Museum of Science and Industry, Hyde Park, and the University of Chicago). Personally I wouldn't want to walk alone on the streets of the Southside, both day and night. Downtown Chicago is fairly safe during the day as there are a lot of business and working people as well as tourists like you. But downtown also becomes dangerous at night, like in any big city. Avoid walking alone and use common sense.
One of the most popular destinations for before or after a Cubs game is El Jardin Fiesta Cantina Bar (it may become Club Eden on the weekends). They are known for their strong margaritas which are reportedly made with grain alcohol. I have known many people who have been sent home incoherent in a cab. Beware!!!!
This is kind of a general word of advice rather than a real warning. Neighborhoods and safety levels can change very quickly once you leave downtown. In fact, very soon after you leave downtown. Some things that I use as warning flags are lots of beat up old cars or cars on blocks, lots of unsupervised children, lots of people apparently without much to do, security signs or measures in stores, and lots of curiosity about who you are.
Having read through a lot of the warning tips about Chicago, it seems that most people will want to caution you about the south side, though the west side can be much worse in places. The truth of the matter is, that some of the worst crimes happen in some of the best neighborhoods. Criminals aren't stupid, they go where the money is. Drug dealers aren't stupid either, they don't want heat where they do business. I go to some of the worst parts of the city depending on the reason and have never been hassled, seldom even draw a second look. Nevertheless, even I cross my fingers in some areas, especially later at night.
There are some areas of the north side that you might want to be more vigilant in. Rogers Park, Humboldt Park, and Uptown are the ones that come to mind. For all the improvements over the last few years, these areas have been left behind to one degree or another.
The south side is generally pretty safe towards the west. I'm not down there all that much, but I would say west of Pulaski. East of there, things can be a bit dicey, but for the most part, no one will bother you, especially during the day.
As a lifelong resident of this city, I can provide slightly more helpful tips than the now cliche "avoid the southside" spiel.
Comisky Park (I know, it's U.S. Cellular field, but screw their corporate image). I wouldn't recommend going to a night game, but the area is relatively safe during the day as long as you stay in the immediate vicinity of the park. If you choose to take the el, the red line is what you'll be getting on. You want to get off at the Sox/35th st. stopt. By no means SHOULD YOU MISS THIS stop. The red line southbound goes through some very dangerous areas. Be careful.
115 Bourbon st. is my favorite bar/club on the south side. It's located on 115th and Homan in Merrionette Park, technically a suburb. If you choose to check it out, the safest way to get there from the loop is to take the Dan Ryan southbound and get off on 159th st. (Markham), the drive north. If you get off before 159th you're going to be in some shady ares, i.e. Harvey, Dixmoor, which brings me to....
In addition to the immediate south side of Chicago, it's advisable for tourists to stay out of some of the south and far south suburbs. Avoid Harvey, Dixmoor, Posen, Calumet City, Chicago Heights, Robbins, and Phoenix. Don't let the fact that these are suburbs lead you into thinking they're safe by default. These areas have crime rates that rival some of the worst parts of the city.
The general rule I would give when traveling on the south side is to limit your self to the southWEST side, that is, limit yourself to the southwest suburbs. Stay north of Garfield (55th st.) and west of Pulaski (3800w) and you should be fine, for the most part. When in doubt, look at a map and see if one of the suburbs I mentioned crosses over. In some places they do.
The west loop has been renovated and is now lofts and businesses. It is pretty safe. Avoid the rest of the west side as you would the south side. The ares along the offramps of the Eisenhower (I290) are hangouts for heroin dealers. Be warned.
Contrary to how some protray the city Chicago is, overall, a safe place. Chicagoans take tremendous pride in their city and a very dim view towards crime. The vast number of "block clubs" and community policing organzations can attest to this. Some areas of the city are best avoided, including parts of the far west and south sides. Fortunately these areas contain nothing of interest for the casual visitor, unless the nature of your journey is sociological or humanitarian in nature, so you won't have to worry about accidentally wandering into them.
The exception is the Cabrini Green housing project as it is near a touristed area. Located just west of the Brown and Purple line tracks of the El that run near the gentrified Gold Coast and Old Town neighborhoods, it is defintely something to be aware of. Even though the "Projects" are coming down, this area is very unsafe.
At night I would avoid walking (especially alone) outside the gentrified areas of Gold Coast, Old Town and Lincoln Park. Unless there's a summer festival going on, even the Loop can be desolate and bleak at night.
As with anywhere else, be aware of petty street crime like pickpockets and con men.