Renting and regularly walking to this Chicago apt - a dumb idea?
January 29, 2018 6:21 AM   Subscribe

Chicagoans! Now is your time to tell me not to worry so much about crime, that it's grossly exaggerated by paranoid outsiders, and that I should just exercise common sense -- and go ahead and rent this place at LaSalle and North Ave in Old Town.

I'm a non-threatening-looking, small, high-voiced person. I've been looking for a place to stay in Chicago, with a planned twice-weekly or more commute to Old Town, specifically the corner of Wells and North Ave.

I finally found a place just one block away, one building down from the intersection of LaSalle and North Avenue.

Crime maps show a lot of robberies in that area, mainly marked as dots in the middle of North Avenue.

So, my worry is that if I'm walking every evening at the same time, right up to the front door - visible from that street and the intersection described - it would be relatively easy to just, you know, wait for me and then start demanding things. I've already been asked for money at Wells and North, in front of the Walgreen's there.

- parking included, and I wouldn't have to pay to park at my destination
- way less time driving and worrying about driving, which helps me get more value -- irreplaceable -- out of my time in the city
- a great opportunity to invite people over
- this location also has a lovely courtyard, even better for inviting people over
- it's only for two months or so

- could be target of a crime?
- expensive, but that's offset by commute and parking savings

I have looked at a lot of places, and various parameters (including that I need a furnished rental) make this the best location I've looked at so far, even ignoring the excellent location.
posted by amtho to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (24 answers total)
Best answer: I used to tutor in that area. Never had any trouble walking around when I'd leave my students' homes later at night around 9pm.
posted by astapasta24 at 6:29 AM on January 29, 2018

You're right to be concerned about being robbed there, but for the wrong reasons. Your daily schedule in a high rise building is unremarkable to criminals and you are assigning more guile to them than they have. No one will be watching you enter and exit your building at certain times. No one is going to be listening to your voice or paying attention to your stature.

There is petty theft in that immediate area, but mostly crimes of opportunity - distracted people walking and listening to music and talking on cell phones, not being aware of their surroundings. They get a snatch-and-grab because that intersection is an easy omnidirectional getaway.

You can avoid this fate by practicing awareness during your walking commute to and from your job and the bus/train. No earbuds, phone away in your bag, wearing a cross-body bag, walking purposefully. When someone hits you up for money, a confident and breezy "not today" while not breaking stride (never stop).
posted by juniperesque at 6:31 AM on January 29, 2018 [14 favorites]

I would not hesitate to rent around there. I think juniperesque has it exactly right about petty theft and crimes of opportunity. There are a lot of fun places around there for people to drink and dine, so that's what creates the supply of distracted people.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 6:38 AM on January 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

There's a lot of traffic through that intersection (lakefront path, North Ave Beach (moreso in the summer), Second City, Lincoln Park and the zoo aren't too far away, the Green City Market, Chicago History Museum, etc. Those are all big tourist draws, and the robberies are most likely criminals taking advantage of people being distracted, not knowing where they are going, generally being easy targets. That's not you.

People asking for money is something you're going to find everywhere, especially in touristy areas, in front of stores. Again, you are not their target market.

This is a fantastic location, and you can't beat a one-block walk to work (plus everything else that you like about it) -- go for it!
posted by Fig at 6:50 AM on January 29, 2018 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I would not consider that an unsafe area. It is very high density - lots of people out at all hours, bars, restaurants, people going to and from Lincoln Park and the beach, etc. - so I would read the statistics with that in mind (i.e., somewhat more crime because there are more people, generally). I would say that there is some higher degree of panhandling and people hanging around the street versus some of the lower density/more completely residential neighborhoods to the north and some heightened awareness would be a good idea, but I would not consider it unsafe in some serious way.
posted by Mid at 6:55 AM on January 29, 2018

The national narrative that Chicago is a crime-riddled dangerous urban environment is a racist narrative. Chicagoist has a good rundown.

Old Town? You'll be fine. No more likely to encounter random crime than basically anyone in any urban environment.
posted by crush at 6:56 AM on January 29, 2018 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Agree with the comments above. If you are getting packages delivered I'd make sure it was going to a doorman or another secure location.

Side note: Don't forget about the bus lines when you need to get somewhere on the CTA -- they can be easier/quicker to use than the L in Lincoln Park/Old Town/East Lakeview and are sometimes overlooked.
posted by typecloud at 7:26 AM on January 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is not a high-rise, and there is no door man. It's about 3 stories, I'd be on the street level, with light from my living room visible from the street. It's a small building owned by one dude, with high rises nearby.

Just for comparison: Durham, NC, is the not-as-dangerous-as-people-say town near where I usually live. The rate of murders per capita for 2017, based on reported numbers from "The Internet" and my own hasty calculation, seemed to be 1/4 that of Chicago.

So, it still may be safer than the popular narrative implies, but I hope you can understand my anxiety about crime in general (this doesn't seem to be a murder-y location).
posted by amtho at 7:47 AM on January 29, 2018

Best answer: The LaSalle/North Avenue instersection is well-lit and usually populated with walkers at all hours- the only time I wouldn't feel comfortable by myself is at 3 AM if no one else was on the street, but that will rarely be the case. It's a block from one of the few 24/7 starbucks in the city and also a 24 hour gym, so you can expect people out and about at every hour.

You will definitely encounter people by the major intersections/stores there panhandling, but in hundreds of encounters over the years I've never felt remotely threatened or unsafe by anyone. (If these situations make you uncomfortable, I've found providing giving some heated leftovers at times is a good way to pay it forward without having to spend $, and people are very appreciative.) Overall the area is surrounded by pockets of wealth and is easily one of the safest locations close to downtown- just keep your wits about you and don't go on dark side streets 2-5AM on weekdays. If your entrance is visible from this intersection, you should be totally fine.
posted by andruwjones26 at 7:47 AM on January 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Responding to your update: if you live on the (near) North Side of Chicago, shootings are extremely rare. I can definitely understand your concern from moving to a major intersection like this from a smaller area- when I first moved to Chicago, I probably would have taken a look at this area and thought it might be unsafe. But really, it is an excellent location, and being a major tourist/commercial center the police treat it as such- you will see cop cars around there frequently, not because it's unsafe but just because it's high density. I second everyone else's advice about not appearing distracted or having out valuable things just to avoid being targeted, but I witness and know people everyday on their iphones earbuds in who don't have issues.

On a semi-related note, this will definitely not be a quiet location (especially on the weekend nights) but as long as that doesn't bother you seriously you can't get a better spot. The lakefront and few large parks are some of the best features of this city in nice weather, and you've both right there.
posted by andruwjones26 at 7:57 AM on January 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The funny thing about Chicago (and any large city, really) is that a lot of the nicest areas look super sketchy if you go by the crime map. Lots of people out and about and lots of retail businesses = lots of petty theft.

It's a great location and close to a ton of stuff. Go for it, and practice awareness as juniperesque describes.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:02 AM on January 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Street level apartments in non-doorman buildings are tempting for burglars. I got robbed twice in three years in an apartment like that in a not-high-crime neighborhood in Brooklyn. But I was also young and dumb and didn't have rental insurance or take simple precautions (like window locks). You don't have to make your apartment totally secure, just secure enough that they'll pick someone easier.
posted by rikschell at 8:18 AM on January 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

Murders are almost always between people who know each other, not robbers killing random people. Don't join a gang, buy/sell drugs, or get into an abusive relationship and you'll almost definitely be fine.
posted by AFABulous at 8:35 AM on January 29, 2018 [8 favorites]

Not a Chicagoan, but someone who has lived in big cities, including former "murder capitals," for just about her whole life.

Your idea of what makes you vulnerable to crime, especially violent crime, is distorted. The idea that street criminals are standing around day after day casing your routine to wait for the perfect opportunity to rob you is just...I mean, it's not even a cop-show trope, so I have no idea where it comes from. You need to be most worried about: (a) areas with limited street traffic and lighting; (b) areas with low-end nightlife, in the evening (the one big exception to "the busier, the better"); (c) the handful of neighborhoods where there is, unfortunately, a drug/gang/excessive policing problem; (d) maintaining reasonable situational awareness when you're out and about.

For the record, Midtown Manhattan and the Times Square area in particular shows up on crime maps as a very high crime area. Because tourists get pickpocketed and flimflammed and have unattended property stolen all the time. There are not constant armed robberies.

I think you should be interrogating your conscience pretty hard about why you assume a panhandling in itself is a threatening prelude to a mugging.
posted by praemunire at 8:53 AM on January 29, 2018 [13 favorites]

I've already been asked for money at Wells and North, in front of the Walgreen's there.

You're likely to encounter this in any/every relatively high density area—it has nothing to do with safety. Give, if you're so inclined or politely decline, if you're not.
posted by she's not there at 8:59 AM on January 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

I used to live in a "bad" part of a much smaller city. I think a lot of the stuff above about just paying attention holds true. Also, like--one of the things that helped me a lot was just not wandering around in such a position that if someone took my bag, I was going to be totally sunk. I had a laptop, but I did not have a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro on me. I had a phone, but it was not a phone I couldn't afford to replace. I have had to deal with replacing stuff after losing a wallet before, and it's unpleasant but you don't die of it. It wasn't so much "nobody will rob you if you don't have expensive stuff", but like--you shouldn't be walking around worried that if somebody takes your bag it's going to ruin your life.

It's not like bystanders never get killed, ever, anywhere, but it doesn't happen with the kind of prevalence that people tend to think it does. Short of that, if you don't get involved with anything like drugs and you keep your phone backed up and have enough in savings, then what you're really looking at is walking around with the risk of an inconvenient couple weeks. I'm a very anxious person, but I didn't really have trouble working with that when I knew that I was carrying $50, a debit card for only one of my two bank accounts, and some electronics I could deal with losing.
posted by Sequence at 9:20 AM on January 29, 2018

Response by poster: praemunire, I didn't specify a type of crime. I've also given stuff to panhandlers in the past. I've also been followed home from bus stations in downtown Atlanta -- where I lived for seven years -- by large strangers (I also had my 12-year-old car broken into, know a friend who was robbed at an ATM, and got put in a headlock by a large dude at Underground Atlanta. I've lived a full life.)

However, I have to say that people with little living right next to people with arguably too much is exactly when things get a little tense; this is what panhandling makes me alert for. I've seen it in Durham, Chapel Hill, and in the tree-filled, quiet, recently traumatized neighborhood where I live. So, panhandlers right next to major tourist attractions are kind of a signal that resentment and opportunity exist here together, so, hey, be alert. I doubt most criminals are just evil people, anyway, but I can't imagine watching overprovisioned tourists and being hungry and not at least considering how to get some of that. Stuff happens.

The idea that street criminals are standing around day after day casing your routine to wait for the perfect opportunity to rob you is just

Dude, I was asking because _I don't know_. Further, I know I don't know, which puts me ahead of a lot of people, and I admit I don't know, which puts me leagues ahead of even more people. I feel pretty upset when I see this kind of attitude directed against others when they ask simple questions admitting they don't have a clue, and if I'd defend them, I guess I should defend myself.

It's one thing to conceive of the notion that X might be true, it's another to believe X is true. If I do the first, please don't assume I'm doing the second. Merely uttering a phrase in question form does not make it more real.
posted by amtho at 9:23 AM on January 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I used to live about two blocks from there. Loved the neighborhood, never felt unsafe. I really miss all those shops and restaurants and the park and the Green City Market. Go for it!
posted by wyzewoman at 9:29 AM on January 29, 2018

So, panhandlers right next to major tourist attractions are kind of a signal that resentment and opportunity exist here together, so, hey, be alert. I doubt most criminals are just evil people, anyway, but I can't imagine watching overprovisioned tourists and being hungry and not at least considering how to get some of that.

Let me put this more gently, then: given your lack of experience, attempting to decide what is safe based on your theorizing about criminal psychology is unlikely to be successful.

Panhandlers go by preference where there is heavy foot traffic. That's why they're near major tourist attractions, and only secondarily in their own neighborhoods (if they indeed have shelter). Panhandling--a perfectly legal activity under most circumstances--is actually a sign of relative physical safety in the urban U.S., precisely because it is a marker of the heavy foot traffic that reduces the likelihood of the more serious crimes. Creepy dudes are less likely to follow you home where it's busy and there are people around to help; ATM robbers are also more likely to look for isolated places to pull off their crimes, to avoid witnesses. I'd trade a modestly increased risk of having someone pull something out of my bag in the crowd for a reduced incidence of armed robbery or rape any day.

Panhandling is also a sign that poverty does exist, and people displace their discomfort with seeing that in strange ways. These people are trying to pull in their money, not gathering field intel for the opportunity to rob. If you carelessly left something unattended right within one's reach, sure, they might take it, but they are not the same folks roaming around out there pickpocketing and bag-snatching, much less engaging in armed robbery. Those are different hustles. I have been asked for change several thousand times in my life (conservative estimate) and never once been victimized by the person asking. (And, believe me, it would be hard for me to figure out a way to be less physically intimidating.) You decline politely and move on.

Especially given the implicit racial dynamics of this question, I would really encourage you to put away thoughts of the poor watching the rich with resentful eyes, just waiting for their chance to take something. It will not improve your urban experience. If your area is well-lit, well-trafficked, and not near Joe-Bob's Debauchery Shack, and you don't just zone out with your music and your wallet hanging out of your bag at 2 a.m., you're going to be fine. Enjoy the city.
posted by praemunire at 10:11 AM on January 29, 2018 [14 favorites]

Response by poster: Dude, I never thought that someone panhandling would be the same person I'd need to worry about doing other things, nor that there's active resentment going on all the time.

I'm asking questions because I don't know, and possibly because I've demonstrably _underestimated_ the potential for problems in the past (see: the headlock incident -- in the middle of a busy tourist attraction -- the car break-in incident, the being-followed-home-at-night incidents, etc. -- all in the distant past for me, I was young, but showing that I tended to trust too readily OR was just unlucky, no way for me to figure that out now.)

There's no need to be condescending, or to assume things about my character or experience, when I'm actively seeking to gain more information. Geez.
posted by amtho at 11:49 AM on January 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

North and LaSalle is nothing like the Atlanta Underground, if that makes you feel any better.
posted by hwyengr at 12:30 PM on January 29, 2018

Come to think of it, there's an Aston Martin dealership a couple blocks from there.
posted by hwyengr at 12:31 PM on January 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, hwyengr. The fancy car thing makes me less attracted to the area, but whatever.

The Underground Atlanta thing didn't even scare me at the time, which is another reason I think my internal meter might be totally weird/off and I needed external advice.
posted by amtho at 12:56 PM on January 29, 2018

That's an interesting area in Chicago history, for sure. Between Clark and the lake is some of the oldest money in Chicago with the brick mansions of the Gold Coast, a couple of blocks west is the former site of Cabrini-Green. The strip between LaSalle/Clark/North/Divison is Sandburg Terrace, Chicago's first high-rise 're-development' zone that razed the tenements to "protect" the Gold Coast.
posted by hwyengr at 1:08 PM on January 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

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