Friday, June 20, 2014

My "High-Crime" Neighborhood is still better than your "Safe" Suburb

So, with another shooting in my neighborhood last night (it looks like another case of high school kids potting at each other), I woke up to see my Facebook feed filled with people lamenting about what a "high crime neighborhood" this has become. Never mind that most of these commentators fled the city into the suburbs long ago, instead of staying to protect a supposedly dear neighborhood. I get the impression that even if they did live here, they would be inside all night watching television, anyway.

Rogers Park is an incredibly dense neighborhood, we have over 40,000 people per square mile as compared to the Chicago average of 12,000. That's a lot of people living in apartments and condos, as well as large tracts of family homes. I find it amazing that our violent crime stats aren't higher; as it is, we fall right in the middle of Chicago neighborhood rankings. I poked around some of the suburban data, and discovered that crime in general is higher in many "good" areas outside of the city, mainly due to a high burglerly rate.

And I've lived in actual high-crime neighborhoods. Places where drug-addicts tried to break into my apartment on a weekly basis. Where you have to develop a counter-stare to face down the guy sizing you up for a late-night mugging. Where multiple gun shots ring out so often at night, that you don't even start at them anymore. Rogers Park is none of those things.

What we are is an incredibly diverse neighborhood, usually considered the only non-segregated district in the city proper. Today, for instance, I had coffee at the hippie-ish Heartland Cafe, stopped at my local library which has a large Russian language section, turned down an elotes vendor, peered into some leather shops, walked by some new Middle-Eastern restaurants and noted the usual assortment of Jamaican and African storefronts.

I don't want to accuse people of racism, but there must be a form of cultural bias in some of the strange criticisms I've heard. We have a large number of independent grocery stores, catering to our large ethnic variety, with signs in many languages lining Clark Street. Yet, I've been told that I live in a "food desert." I've been told that the CTA station at Morse is dark and scary, yet for the last few years it's been more brightly lit than Wrigley Field at a night game. I've been told that it isn't safe for families, but there are always parents and children wandering around, going to the beaches and parks, coming home from church and standing in line at the Mexican vending carts.

So, as in any large urban area, you don't want to walk around late at night, flashing your cell phone around, but for the most part we are a safe, friendly neighborhood. It's not a place for driving to Target, going through the McDonald's drive-thru, then heading home to watch television all night. You can do those things here, but that would miss the point of living in the city in the first place. If your idea of excitement is a trip to the Old Country Buffet, then by all means, please, stay in the suburbs. It just leaves more jerk chicken and Thai iced coffee for the rest of us.

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