People looking to buy a home in Chicago frequently want to know whether or not a particular neighborhood is "safe" or "dangerous". Unfortunately, there are a whole host of problems with coming up with an answer to that question. At the highest level it's a question that has a highly subjective answer. For starters, which crimes should we focus on in determining what's dangerous? Murder? Rape? Assault? Robbery? Burglary? Prostitution? And then how much crime do you need to have before a neighborhood can be considered dangerous? Oh...and how do you interpret the data because a neighborhood with a higher population density is likely to have more crime just by the laws of probability.
So, the government doesn't like real estate agents pontificating on this matter precisely because it is so subjective and they don't want real estate agents "steering" home buyers to particular neighborhoods based upon their own prejudices. Steering can also prevent a neighborhood from ever improving by discouraging law abiding citizens from moving into it. So there are fair housing laws that prevent us from making certain kinds of statements about which neighborhoods are dangerous or safe.
However, that doesn't mean that real estate agents have to remain totally silent on the matter. Usually we will recommend that a home buyer check some Web site for crime statistics or hang out in a neighborhood for a while to see if they feel comfortable there. For example, a bunch of loitering adult males in the middle of the work day is usually not a good sign. Idle hands...
The problem with the Web sites is that they don't really show the data exactly the way I think many people would like to see it - the time period covered is too short, the geographic area too broad, too many crimes lumped together, teeny tiny maps, etc... In an effort to provide some clarity on this topic I previously compiled some Chicago police department data on crime by neighborhood in a blog post. I've been procrastinating updating that blog post for a while now but I got real motivated earlier this week when one of my daughters (she's kinda naive) thought she would get on the el in a "dangerous" neighborhood at 11 PM. After an appropriate amount of hysteria I started to poke around on the Internet for data and hit the jackpot with the City of Chicago data portal.
Where People Get Murdered In Chicago
I decided to focus on murder for the time being since most people would think that getting killed is a pretty undesirable outcome that would constitute a dangerous situation. I pulled up all the murders for the 12 month period ending May 31, 2013 - 432 in all - and then spent an inordinate amount of time finding a way to create an interactive map of them. And voila!
Note that you can click on any marker to get a few more reported details on that murder. And apparently the large markers represent locations of multiple homicides.
I have to say that I am really impressed with myself on this one and Kudos to ZeeMaps for making this awesome mapping tool available for free. If you would like you can also go to the full browser version of my Chicago murder map.
A few observations on the map. Obviously there are some areas where the murders are concentrated and clearly areas where there aren't many. Notice the large area bounded by Montrose, California, and North Avenue where there were apparently no murders in this time period. And my neighborhood of East Village didn't fare too poorly. And when the media reports murders in my old neighborhood of University Village...well, I define University Village a lot more narrowly than they do. There were no murders east of Racine and south of Maxwell Street. Of course "past performance is no guarantee of future results".
By just looking at this map and comparing it to a heat map of median income for Chicago you can plainly see that murder correlates pretty strongly with income. Again, idle hands... Also, isn't it odd that the murders appear to occur along diagonal lines - from northwest to southeast. What's with that? If anyone has any insights I'm all ears.
This blog post is getting too long and I'm not done talking about murder so I'll do another post in a day or two with a few more insights on crime in Chicago. Man, I love data!
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