Hyde park horror stories: irrelevant here?
July 14, 2014 10:19 AM   Subscribe

Seriously considering this particular apartment at UChicago, but I can't visit and I don't know the area! Anyone with experience there, please let me know if it's a good/safe location?

I'm going to be starting at UChicago in the fall as a postdoc, and while I visited the campus for a brief interview, but I'm far away and can't realistically get back to campus to check out specific apartments. I discovered that I'm eligible for an on-campus apartment through the faculty-and-staff housing program at 6021 S. Kimbark Avenue.

The rent on a one-bedroom, while a bit higher than I would like, would still be less than a third of my income, so I think it's manageable. My big question is: is this part of campus safe? The building would be 100% university-affiliated faculty/staff. I'm a young woman who will be living alone, and I'm not very familiar with cities. I've heard such mixed reviews of safety at UChicago, and of Hyde Park generally. I would plan to walk to work in the mornings, and take a bus or shuttle home at night if it's after dark. I am looking for an upper-floor apartment, and am very safety-conscious about locking the windows, letting strangers in, etc., but I'm still concerned about ending up in a questionable part of a city I don't know. Any advice would be welcome!
posted by you're a kitty! to Home & Garden (17 answers total)
Response by poster: I should have added: my other option is a second-floor apartment here, also about the same distance from work but in the other direction. I did a bit of walking around that area — it was mostly schools and theological buildings.
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:31 AM on July 14, 2014

You'll be fine that close to campus, especially because you are on the shuttle route, although a good rule of thumb in Hyde Park is that you want to live north of Midway Plaisance. (Actually, south of the Midway is technically Woodlawn, not Hyde Park, but no one will bother with this distinction that close to campus.)

Hyde Park generally is a very safe neighborhood and getting more so each year. The University of Chicago Police Department are pretty much everywhere, and they patrol from 37th to 65th streets between Cottage Grove Avenue and Lake Shore Drive. When I was a student there a few years ago I never felt uncomfortable walking around alone after dark. (I am female.)

It's also not a very "citified" neighborhood. It has a very suburban/college town feel. I think you'll be perfectly comfortable there without previous experience living in cities.

On preview - the 55th and Woodlawn location is a fantastic one. You are right by the central shopping/restaurants area of Hyde Park. It will be a little less quiet - lots of students nearby - but unless you're a very light sleeper I'd go with that apartment in a heartbeat.
posted by capricorn at 10:35 AM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

My hunch is that you're going to be happier in the 54th and Woodlawn apartment than in the 61st and Kenwood one. I lived on the Woodlawn block, although not specifically in that building, and it's really close to restaurants, the produce store, and other good stuff.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:37 AM on July 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

That address should be as safe as pretty much anywhere else in Hyde Park; it's literally on campus, so it's going to be as safe as say the dorm a couple blocks down where the university houses freshmen. South of the Midway is slightly less safe than North of the Midway, but that close to campus it doesn't matter much. I'd be more concerned about crossing the Midway in the dead of winter/being further from restaurants, etc., than safety. Hyde Park is more safe than you'd think.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:37 AM on July 14, 2014

That's a safe location and the walk would be quick; however, I agree that the 54th and Woodlawn location is much preferable in terms of proximity to campus, food, and grocery stores, as well as being generally prettier and more homey feeling.
posted by precession at 10:39 AM on July 14, 2014

Seeing the second option, I agree that you'd be happier there (I lived a couple places down from that for two years), but as I said, it's mostly because of issues other than safety.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:39 AM on July 14, 2014

I have lived in Hyde Park for many years. I have also lived in University of Chicago Faculty and Staff housing. It was without a doubt the WORST living experience I have ever had, including Mac apartments, which if you're searching for housing in Hyde Park you've already heard much about.

My apartment was spacious and relatively affordable ($1200, plus no security deposit), but over the course of eight months we had cockroaches in our kitchen (cupboards, sink) and mice-- everywhere. Live mice running through the living room while we watched TV, mouse droppings on our kitchen table, stovetop, in our silverware drawer-- everywhere. We called the University and their pest services to report this (when we first started seeing mice) in March, and by the time they did anything, it was already summertime and we were doing some serious damage control. By the time our lease was up, it had been months, we still had roaches, and they had barely lifted a finger to take care of the mice. They didn't fill holes in the apartment (possible points of entry) until 3-4 months later. Maintenance is apparently understaffed and/or incompetent, as every single maintenance appointment we've made (whether replacing an appliance, filling a mouse hole or fixing a lightbulb) has had to be followed-up on multiple times for it to come to fruition. I hate dissing maintenance staff as my dad is a maintenance man, but in this case I must tell it true.

That said, I wouldn't be afraid to walk in this area. It's definitely University territory, and while there's always the opportunity for a crime like mugging (anywhere in Chicago!), there are plenty of security and police in the area. I work very close to your proposed apartment and often walk home late at night and have never had an incident. To be honest, it might not "feel" safe, however-- it is right on the cusp of a more worn-down looking area. I have seen families and happy grad students/post docs/staff living in the building you're proposing though. Also, inexplicably, I asked people (both in your building and mine) before I moved in if they liked it and had any pest problems, and everyone (to a man!) said no, despite the obvious and undeniable problems we had in University housing. (Never had a problem in the dorms, though.)

The second apartment you've proposed is in a much "safer feeling" area, though muggings and robberies still happen up there, if you check the crime maps. Lock your doors when you leave, get renters insurance, &c. I would personally vote for the second apartment, just because it's in much closer proximity to places you'll probably go a lot in the neighborhood (restaurants, grocery stores, safe transportation). Hyde Park is already kind of boring, and around 60th St is especially boring. (Good luck getting a cup of coffee down there.)

PS: Do your grocery shopping at Hyde Park Produce! The one place I'll miss when I leave Hyde Park.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:40 AM on July 14, 2014

As an undergrad I lived south of the Midway a short distance from your Kimbark housing and never had any safety problems, although I agree with the consensus that the Woodlawn site is closer to things and livelier. No doubt you also noticed the proximity of the first to Rockefeller Chapel- hope you like carillon music! :)
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 11:04 AM on July 14, 2014

I lived south of the Midway for one year as a grad student at U of C, and north of the Midway for the remaining six years I was there. (The nearest intersections were 60th & Drexel vs. 53rd & Kimbark, respectively.)

I'll nth the suggestion that the location on Woodlawn is much better for livability. Unless things have changed quite a lot along 63rd Street since I lived there ('01-'08), the main commercial districts are along 53rd St. (Woodlawn to the lake), Lake Park (51st to 55th), and 55th (Lake Park to the lake.) The Kimbark location is a 20-minute walk from the nearest major grocery store; the Woodlawn location is 5 minutes from a great produce stand and 10 minutes from a major grocery store.

Also: I lived in graduate student housing owned by the U of C the entire time I was there, and never had a problem with poor maintenance like stoneandstar describes. Perhaps faculty/staff housing is different, or perhaps individual maintenance staff are better/worse about getting things done. In both of the buildings I lived in, there was a maintenance guy who lived in the building; this might affect how promptly they respond.
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:21 AM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd go for the one on Woodlawn. We lived on Kimbark directly behind that apartment building -- our parking in the alley behind my apartment looked into that building's courtyard. North of the campus has more stuff going on. You're not going to feel like you're really in Hyde Park in the other place, although it should be perfectly safe.
posted by MarkAnd at 11:28 AM on July 14, 2014

Another vote for the one on Woodlawn for all the reasons mentioned above. But:

(Good luck getting a cup of coffee down there.)

Robust Coffee Lounge, at the corner of Woodlawn & 63rd, brews a respectable cup, and makes pretty tasty bagel sandwiches.
posted by ndg at 11:44 AM on July 14, 2014

Nthing that both locations will be pretty safe and have a strong UCPD presence.

The one on Woodlawn is a few buildings down from where I lived for three years as an undergrad. My apartment was managed by Blackstone, not MAC, and while we had a few tussles with the management over heat and bike parking it was well maintained and we were generally pretty happy with it. It's a nice central location--walking distance to most places you'd want to go in Hyde Park, and especially to Hyde Park Produce, which was definitely the best grocery store in the neighborhood. There are a lot of undergrads living around there, which may mean parties on the weekends sometimes. By college standards, U of C undergrads are pretty quiet, but if that sort of noise really bothers you it would be something to keep in mind.
posted by Aquinas at 11:47 AM on July 14, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! I'm also looking at UChicago graduate housing, but that mostly appears to be in the Woodlawn area, so the above information is helpful there too. Much appreciated!
posted by you're a kitty! at 2:16 PM on July 14, 2014

My family and I lived in the Kimbark building that you are considering for three years, and moved out last November. Overall, I would recommend it. There were no pest issues in our unit, and the University was responsive to our maintenance requests. We found it to be relatively inexpensive and spacious.

As other folks have mentioned, it is a bit off the beaten track, and the Woodlawn building is going to be significantly closer to grocery and dining options. I have a colleague who currently lives in that building, so if you have particular questions, I could pass them on.

As far as crime, we had one break-in to our car, and observed the aftermath of numerous others nearby (mostly on the Midway). There was one basement break-in at the building during the years we were there (some bikes were stolen), but I'm not aware of any other recent incidents at the building. I definitely did not feel that the location was more unsafe than other areas of Hyde Park. The building is on a dead end, and the block was a bit off of most people's radar.

The Kimbark building is rumored to be slated for eventual demolition by the University. They are planning to develop a new quad on that site, and have demolished other buildings on the block recently. The demolition at least a couple of years off yet, but if you end up staying a long time, this may become a concern.
posted by basil at 2:49 PM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dr. TM and I lived in Hyde Park in the early 1990s (first in married grad student housing at 57th and Drexel, which is long gone, and later at 55th and Hyde Park Blvd). I haven't heard that crime rates in Hyde Park have significantly changed (although ongoing gentrification suggests it's probably gotten safer). I'd pick the 5439 S. Woodlawn building, though, in a heartbeat. You're closer to everything interesting. And if they're demolishing other buildings in the 6000 block of Kimbark, as basil says, it's probably not as desirable a place to be anyways.

You might want to check out the UCPD crime log to see what kinds of crimes are currently happening where and when.

Hyde Park is an awesome neighborhood with all kinds of great people (both UChicago and non-UChicago). I still get homesick for it. What's your field?
posted by tully_monster at 4:07 PM on July 14, 2014

nthing that you'll be safe either way, but the Woodlawn location is preferable. Since you say you're also looking at some of the grad student housing, be advised that it varies greatly. I lived in the building at 53rd and Kimbark for two years and it was wonderful-- spacious, nice, well-maintained, and with no pest problems at all. If you can get a place in that building, I would absolutely recommend doing so. I had friends in other buildings with very different experiences.
posted by dizziest at 4:42 PM on July 14, 2014

Another U of C grad alum here. I would also definitely vote for 54 & Woodlawn, as you will be much happier in the dead of winter when you need to go grocery shopping (er, among other things). I lived for 1 year in U of C grad student housing, and it really was pretty horrifying (among other things, it was impossible to get the tile floor clean, it was so filthy).
posted by thomas j wise at 5:34 PM on July 14, 2014

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