Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Tale of Two Cities, Part III.

Whenever someone asks me or my wife if our new neighborhood in the city is safe, after telling them, "Yes," we often follow it up with something like, "You should have seen it twenty years ago!"

And it's true. When I worked at the Merc we'd take clients to Rosebud on Taylor Street for dinner and a chance to gawk at the "wise guys" and "goodfellas" (or, more likely, the wannabes). But, we'd tell them, we have to take a cab directly there and directly back because -- wait for it -- there's projects in the neighborhood and it's not safe after dark! (Turns out, many of the long-time residents have confirmed that the neighborhood was, in fact, not so hot in the good ol' days.)

But, and here's the bottom line here: I know what the crime statistics in Chicago are and I know it's a much different city depending on whether you're white or live on the North Side (I get all that, okay?), but as far as my wife and I are concerned Chicago has never been a nicer place to live.

And it's not just our neighborhood. Since I've been back I've hiked through many parts of the city (often at night) and can attest that all of them -- all of them -- are nicer than when we left Chicago in 1992. I took a look at Wikipedia's page on the 77 "Community Areas" (neighborhoods) of Chicago and made a quick list of all the ones I've visited since moving back. And, as I said, they're all much nicer than when we left. Here's an incomplete list:

Cabrini–Green, River North, South Loop, West Loop, Roscoe Village, Lake View/Wrigleyville, Logan Square/Palmer Square, Uptown/Buena Park, Lincoln Square, Ravenswood, Albany Park, Edgewater/Andersonville, Irving Park, Humboldt Park, West Town/Ukrainian Village and Wicker Park, Greektown, Little Italy/Tri-Taylor, Pilsen, Bridgeport, and Hyde Park/Kenwood.

Notice a pattern? They are all on either the North Side, or the close-in Near South or West Sides. If you told me most of the neighborhoods farther South and/or West were no better or even worse than 20 years ago I wouldn't be able to argue with you. (On Tuesday night, for example, I drove through the disadvantaged South Side neighborhoods of Englewood and Auburn Gresham on my way down to Beverly. Chicago really is a Tale of Two Cities -- it's depressing.)

But that doesn't change my strong belief that Chicago as a whole has improved dramatically since I arrived here 35 years ago.

When I read things like this from that piece in The Week:

But above all, what's tearing at the city's heart are crime ... and violence.

I think, not in the Chicago where I live.

But, you may be thinking, what about all that gun violence I keep hearing about?

That's a fair question, and as I've said repeatedly, I have no reason to question the facts and/or statistics. (If anything, the police are probably understating the problem.)

But why don't I feel it, or see it? Is it because it's confined to the South and West Sides? Not really. Recently, a gun battle took place in Wrigleyville in which 78 bullets were fired. (My niece, who lives a couple of blocks away, slept blissfully through the whole thing.) And a few months ago someone was shot and killed on Roosevelt Road just a short distance from my house. But the murder took place at three in the morning. Now, I don't know about you, but like my niece, I'm safely tucked away in bed at 3:00 am.

According to the Times piece:

Chicago has long wrestled with guns and gangs, and the splintering of large gangs into smaller, disparate groups had added to the bloodshed that largely plays out on the South and West Sides. As of late April, murders were up 54 percent from last year, and shootings were up by 70 percent.

Oh, so it's a "gang" thing. Or, more specifically, a "drug trade" thing. I seem to remember reading that ever since the Feds broke up the dominant gang in the local drug trade several other gangs have been fighting over "market share" in the "industry."

Makes me kind of wonder what would happen to gun violence in Chicago if they ever legalized drugs. My great-uncle Tom "Red" Duffy was a small-time bootlegger who was shot and killed by Al Capone's gang back in the 1920s. (Capone, himself, was thought to have pulled the trigger. Talk about "high barriers to entry!") Funny, though, ever since Prohibition was repealed all of my family members have died of natural causes. Go figure.

Makes me also wonder if you're relatively safe here so long as you're not seen as in competition with those budding "entrepreneurs." I've often remarked -- only half-jokingly -- that you'd be just fine if you found yourself in one of Chicago's "bad" neighborhoods because one of the first rules of business is: Don't shoot the customer.

I apologize if I'm making light of this very serious topic. But I'm reminded of that old saying, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" In other words, if I feel safe does it really matter what the statistics are?

Next: police brutality and racism.

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