A notable difference between living in Chicago as a child and living here as a college student is that I can expect a security alert from UCPD (University of Chicago Police Department) to arrive in my inbox about once a month or so. The most recent one came just a few days ago. Hyde Park and the neighborhood in which I grew up have comparable crime rates according to the Chicago Police Department’s Crime Summary website (although perhaps the numbers are much different during the academic year). Nevertheless, it seems to me that safety is a far more pressing concern among my college classmates than it was among people I knew before.
This is probably in part because a large proportion of the university students have never lived in a large city before, whereas many of my previous acquaintances have lived in Chicago for their whole lives. I am never quite sure how to answer questions about safety from people who are new to Chicago. Although I’ve heard “Use your common sense” as a guideline, that doesn’t seem useful. For example, it was always natural to me to lock all doors when I leave and make sure that I wasn’t leaving any possessions unattended. However, that behavior may seem very strange to people who come from areas where theft is significantly rarer. On the flip side, I am always surprised to hear how dangerous other people consider activities that are routine to me, such as taking certain CTA routes.
While safety is a reasonable priority for all people, sometimes I worry that their fears of the city are exaggerated. Talking to some people, one would think that we were constantly under siege. Chicago obviously has high-crime areas that need further attention, but it’s important to note that Hyde Park and Kenwood are somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of neighborhood crime levels. When the resident head in my dorm relayed that information to the freshmen, they had a hard time believing him. Several years ago, Time ran an interesting cover story about how inaccurate our assessments of relative risk can be. As the article indicates, one ought to be able to keep everything in perspective even while taking appropriate precautions.
Edited to add: The timing of this post is less than ideal in light of recent violence in Kenwood, but the crime wave was regarded as unusual, from what I can tell by reading the article.
Kenwood Community Looks for Answers in Murder Spike [Chicago Tribune]
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