Safe and Dangerous Places in Chicago

Areas to Avoid Chicago


Travel to nearly any corner of the globe – a slum in Cairo, a trendy Paris cafe, a market in Delhi – and tell a local you're from Chicago. It shouldn't surprise you that their perception of Chicago is one of a lawless, siren-wailing war zone where Al Capone roams the streets and machine gun battles rattle the night. "Al Capone. Bang! Bang!" is as common as a comment about Michael Jordan and President Obama.
Of course, the frequent news stories about yet another senseless gang murder on the West or South Side does little to discredit the idea that there are multiple areas to avoid in Chicago. Add the history of the mob, and the City of Big Shoulders may be better known for crime than its outstanding museums and world-class universities. But there are safe areas in Chicago that can be easily navigated, as long as one knows where not to venture.

Areas to Avoid in Chicago

Despite its international reputation as a crime capital, Chicago is a generally safe city. This is because its present day trouble spots, occupying various stretches on the South and West Sides, tend to be isolated and far-removed from the tourist areas that are concentrated around the Loop and just north of downtown. However, if your aim when visiting Chicago, is to seek adventure, danger, or to experience life as chronicled in "The Untouchables," then here are some recommendations for areas that most visitors should avoid in Chicago:

5. Visiting the Wilson Red Line Stop at night is not a smart choice. Located in the city's up-and-coming Uptown neighborhood on the North Side, the Wilson Red Line "L" stop is safe during the day, but it is questionable after dusk. In particular, avoid the area between Montrose and Lawrence, just east of the tracks. According to the real estate website, Neighborhood Scout, which tracks crime statistics, the area around Wilson and Clarendon ranks lowest among all North Side neighborhoods, but there are still dangers in this part of Chicago.

4. Any street dominated by broken down cars but with a Mercedes peppered here and there is a street you really don't want to travel. This is simple common sense, but it's the most important tip to remember. If you're unsure about any area, glance at the cars on the street. If a majority of vehicles look like they belong in a landfill or a junkyard – with a high-end car or two randomly mixed in – get out of there. That Mercedes owner probably doesn't earn his income as a polite and honest worker.

3. If you're new to Chicago, beware of apartment ads for places in "West Wicker Park." Locals know that West Wicker Park is code for Humboldt Park. Located on the West Side, Humboldt is a huge neighborhood with many areas that are green, tree-lined, and quiet. But Humboldt also has its seedier areas, and the distinction between safe places and areas to avoid in Chicago can quickly shift and blur depending on the block. So to stay safe, simply avoid it altogether. As a general rule, when south of Lincoln Park, be wary of anything west of Western Avenue. And remember not to fall for the West Wicker Park bit.

2. Another of the dangerous places in Chicago is the area around the Howard Red Line Stop. Located at the city's northern boundary with suburban Evanston, the Howard Red Line Stop and the surrounding streets, like its Red Line counterpart at Wilson, are infamous for gang-related activity. If you accidentally get off the train at Howard, you'll want to find a cop and become their temporary buddy until the next train arrives.

1. Englewood and Washington Park are both on the city's South Side and are well-known havens for drug dealing, prostitution, and violent crime. According to the Every Block Chicago website, which tracks crime statistics, Englewood led the city in total crimes for the month of July in 2010 with a whopping 1,397 between July 7 and August 7. According to a study published in the Chicago Sun Times in June of 2009, four Chicago neighborhoods – each located in parts of Englewood and Washington Park – are among the nation's 25 most dangerous neighborhoods.

Safe Areas in Chicago

There are plenty of safe areas in Chicago, too. Chill in any one of these places, and you'll reduce your chances of encountering crime.

5. Aside from the yuppie drunkards around Wrigleyville and the off-beat characters who loiter on Belmont Avenue, there's limited risk to being in Lakeview and the Roscoe Village area. Located just to the north of Lincoln Park and bordering Lake Michigan, Lakeview is a trendy area featuring a mostly harmless mix of young professionals, students, and families. But the past year has seen a spike in crime here, mostly around the Belmont Red Line stop. If you're walking around alone late at night, you should stick to the area west of Ashland and into Roscoe Village, with its sleepier small-town feel.

4. Ravenswood / Lincoln Square / North Center are just to the north and west of Lakeview. These safe areas are quiet, tree-lined, and family-oriented. Comprised mostly of walk-ups and brownstones, but with coffee shops and restaurants on the major streets, these neighborhoods see more strollers and toddlers than Lakeview. With the limited bar-scene, the party-hearty younger crowd tends to shy away, as do the creeps who gather around them, so this place is routinely safe.

3. Chicago, and Lincoln Park in particular, is home to De Paul University's campus and the Lincoln Park Zoo. Visitors also flock to its charming streets and trendy bars, restaurants, and shops. Lincoln Park is usually safe, regardless of the hour. Along with Old Town to its south, Lincoln Park perennially boasts some of the lowest crime rates in the city, according to the real estate website, Neighborhood Scout. Violent crime, especially in the areas near the lake, is almost non-existent.

2. The Loop and the Gold Coast are two of the more popular areas in Chicago. There's safety in numbers, as the old adage tells us, which is why the Loop and the Gold Coast, during sunlight hours, are about as risk-free as you can get. With the hoards of tourists shopping on Michigan Avenue's Magnificent Mile, you can trust it as a place that is safe. The Chicago sea of well-dressed white-collar workers swarming around the Loop offers little opportunity for criminals to wreak their havoc. You can feel secure in these two neighborhoods.

1. Sauganash and its surrounding northwest neighborhoods make up one of the safest neighborhoods in Chicago. Located in the far northwest corner of the city, and bordering Skokie, Sauganash is one of the city's ten safest neighborhoods according to Neighborhood Scout. Also getting high marks are adjacent residential neighborhoods including Jefferson Park. Unfortunately, visitors have little reason to head there, as they are family-oriented rather that brimming with tourist destinations. But if you're looking for a new neighborhood for your family, then it is definitely worth a look.

Chicago, like any other city, has both safe and dangerous places. In Chicago, low-income housing projects and million-dollar new construction are often separated by one busy street. Just remember that in Chicago, like any safe city, you need to use common sense. If you follow these rules of thumb, you should be fine. Stick to well-lit places with lots of other people around, don't jog in the park alone after dark, and don't consume lots of alcohol before you stumble home alone. Oh, and please don't go to West Wicker Park.

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