Friday, January 29, 2010

On O'Reilly and Why He's Wrong about the South Side of Chicago

The always subtle, considerate, and well-informed Bill O'Reilly recently made some pretty offensive comments about the south side of Chicago and Haiti. I'm sure most of you have heard about this already, but check out this Huffington Post article, as well as ChicagoNow's Kyra Kyles's post for more details. In a nutshell, O'Reilly stated that the south side, like Haiti, is a disaster area that cannot be saved, no matter how much money you pump into it.

First off, O'Reilly is an idiot and I absolutely think he gets paid to make people angry because that's what generates attention.

That being said, his comment really struck a nerve for me. On the one hand, I can chalk the statement up to ignorance-- he's not from Chicago and, from what I've read, hasn't spent any prolonged time here. What's more upsetting to me is that he is evoking and popularizing a misconception that is already held by many native Chicagoans. I was born and raised on the north side, and lived and went to school in some areas that weren't so hot, yet many friends and family from the old hood act worried, or at least uncomfortable, when they have to pass Roosevelt to come visit me in Hyde Park.

I recently had a friend (who grew up in the Chicago area) come to my place for the first time. The first thing out of his mouth was, "Wow, I was always scared to try to find street parking by the museum [of Science and Industry]. Who knew it was nice around here?!" Later in the night, I overhead him comment to his girlfriend that maybe they should put the south side on their radar when they start looking for a place to buy. This guy has lived in the city for 27 years, had been to the museum countless times, and yet had never ventured off the campus to the surrounding neighborhood. Once he was pushed to actually set foot in a south side community, though, he actually liked it.

I think a big part of the problem is that the media seems to talk about the north side as a collection of distinct neighborhoods, but treats the south side as a homogeneous community. If a crime takes place in Uptown for example, the media and Chicagoans in general are probably not going to generalize that Lakeview or Lincoln Park are also unsafe. If a crime happens in Englewood, though, people interpret that as meaning Hyde Park, Bronzeville, Beverly, Chatham, etc. are unsafe too.

That is not to say that many south side communities are not struggling. There's no doubt about the fact that there are several south side neighborhoods that have major problems with crime. At the same time, I think few people realize that there are about as many south side neighborhoods in the green (i.e. low crime) range as there are north side neighborhoods in this range. (The south side has more high-crime areas, but it's also twice as big as the north-side.) I'd also like to point out that the downtown area and hip west-loop have higher crime rates than many parts of the south side.

If Chicagoans from all sides of the city can support these healthy south side communities by frequenting existing businesses and investing in new commerce, then I think that this revitalization will spread to some of the red and orange areas. And please don't get me wrong, I'm not encouraging a yuppy invasion or neighborhood flipping, I'm just saying that if you're a northsider willing to come to the Loop to check out a new restaurant, I see no reason why you should be afraid of safe-as-the-Gold Coast Hyde Park.

Ok, I'm done with my rant/lecture. Thanks for your patience. :-)

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