How to tell you’re in an unsafe area

In Chicago, a Safe Park Zone sign is a warning that you may encounter gang activity, drug sales and weapon-carrying teenagers. You won’t find Safe Park Zone signs in safe parks, but you will find them, for example, in parts of Humboldt Park.

Safe School Zone signs are helpful in determining whether there’s gang or drug activity near your neighborhood school.

“Don’t Shoot – I want to grow up” signs send an unmistakable message about the area, as do the bars on the windows.

Just around the corner from the “Don’t Shoot” sign, a very different sign invites you to “Live Well” at 914 N Richmond. Last October we noted that the local Alderman described this block as “an area long dominated by gangs and drugs.”


  • First I will agree with your statement, however, again I am concerned about your intent behind these posts. I am an avid reader and generally love your posts, but this now your third post that promotes ignorance and possible steering due to lack of context. I enjoyed our dialogue and felt educated from our discussion on occupy wall street promoting squatting vacant homes but it’s killing me thinking what readers who don’t know the city well take from a post like this. This pattern including the post mentioned above and your post about murals in certain neighborhoods makes me uncomfortable. I am not saying you are racist but please take in mind the power your writing holds and your intention behind it. I don’t intend for this to be combative discussion. I refuse to accept your previous answer in our last discussion that this is a complex discussion that has no place on your site. If that is the case, leave posts like your’s above off of the site. Thanks

    • David 6 years

      Everything in this article is true as far as I know. Areas of Humboldt Park are known to be dangerous and infested with drugs and gangs. That doesn’t have anything to do with race and Joe’s article didn’t mention race. I would want to know if the single largest investment I’ll make in my life (as most people’s homes are) was in an area where I have to worry about gang activity.

  • Greg,

    You’re not saying I’m racist, you’re only suggesting I might be?

    Spend some more time here and look at the very many posts and videos over the years promoting areas of the city that others disparage or never even visit. I’ve got a lifelong track record, you’ve got a fantasy.

    Just because you find the possibility of racism where there isn’t any doesn’t obligate me to engage in a discussion of it, any more than I’d be obligated to discuss poltergeists here if you saw them in my posts.

    Have you considered what readers who don’t know this site might take from a scurrilous comment like yours?

    And how in the hell does this post promote ignorance? Spare me the crap about context – it’s a blog post, not an essay. If you want context, there are 1,000s of posts here to provide it.

  • IrishPirate 6 years

    I find this amusing, in a negative way.

    I’ve been reading this site since about the time it appeared. Joe Zekas is many things,some of them negative, but racist isn’t one of them.

    As for “steering” that’s more of a legal concept that affects Real Estate Agents than a concept for a blog post.

    You basically accepted the veracity of the Zekasian blog post, but since it makes you uncomfortable he shouldn’t post it. Really? The first requirement about dealing with any issue is to be honest about the issue;regardless, of whether it annoys or hurts people or not.

    On various comments I’ve made on various sites people have suggested that I’m a racist or flat out called me a racist. Prior to the last census it was clear that the black population in the City of Chicago had drastically dropped. I often pointed out that truth and suggested it was a negative for the city. Merely saying that made me a racist in the eyes of some people.

    To paraphrase one commenter who attacked me “I see plenty of black people, you must hate black people”.

    Like Joe Zekas I am many things, many of them negative, but while I am imperfect regarding race I’m not a racist. By the way if you find some perfect person regarding race or any other issue let me know. I have yet to meet a perfect person.

  • Alphaville 6 years

    I’m confident in suggesting that the general public has been sensitized to the purpose behind “signage as facade,” whether municipal or advertising. No need to educate us with a post. As for the “Live Well” sign… Even folks in struggling neighborhoods understand that stretching the truth goes farther than saying, “Needs work.”

    I’ll pile onto the obviousness…
    I understand that this site has had to adapt with the changing market over the past five years. I have actually found humor in posts poking fun at sale listings just outwardly asking for it. Two things have diluted the site content, for me; One being unwarranted positivity towards lackluster properties/projects of site clients, and the other; Pointless negativity towards defenseless, blighted neighborhoods as with this post. Both contribute to suggest an artificial agenda, but only one pays the bills.

    Enough interesting things are happening in the current market to keep our attention. Case in point, the majority of the front page of this site. Please resist the temptation of making the headlines read like we’re stuck in 2009. I don’t fear the truth, but please keep it relevant.

  • Alphaville,

    What’s relevant to any part of our audience is irrelevant to most of it.

    There’s no artificial agenda here, other than a studied attempt to recognize and respect the variety of choices people make about where and how they live, whatever those choices are.

    If I were to focus only on what pays the bills I’d stay out of about 90% of the land area of Chicago. I”ve written, I’m totally confident, far more positive posts about far more parts of Chicago, and presented far more residents of far more neighborhoods in a positive light, than anyone doing anything similar to what I’m doing on this site. Ditto for 100s of videos, thousands of photos at Flickr, and many comments at other sites balancing the snotty sense of superiority that’s often flaunted in those venues.

    For the great majority of visitors to this site who are not regulars or veterans of urban living I try to strike a balance between the relentlessly positive hype they find on real estate broker and rental sites and the myopically downbeat view – when there’s any view at all – of Chicago’s neighborhoods found in the major media.

    A number of our posts are clearly labeled as sponsored posts. We make a genuine effort to constrain them to what’s credibly promotional, and they typically include a video that enables people to make their own judgments about what they see. If you feel they’re overly positive, you’re free to express a contrary opinion in our comments or at YouTube. To my knowledge no other site allows commenters to talk back to its advertisers in this fashion. Check it out – you’ll find that comments are closed on sponsored posts on other sites.

    We also scan feeds from 100s of local, regional and national sites several times a day to provide whatever balance we’re unable to. Hope you’ve checked out our Chicago Real Estate News page.

    Please elaborate on what you mean by “stuck in 2009.” I’m missing your point on that.

    • Alphaville 6 years

      Thanks for the reply. I understand the majority of your general points; I’m just not getting the underlying point behind the post. I don’t see the “recognize and respect” component, and perceive it more as “recognize and ridicule.”

      By “stuck in 2009” I simply meant that there is present cause for optimism… which is why we don’t see any more “sky is falling” posts as in years past. Because of this optimism, I would expect to see fewer posts pointing out the obvious negatives of neighborhoods, and more about progression.

  • Fred 6 years

    I, for one, appreciate and see the helpfulness in posts like this. Not everyone who reads this site is a regular or a real estate guru. I started reading this site as a first time homebuyer with absolutely no background in real estate. For a first time homebuyer or maybe an out-of-towner googling Chicago real estate these tips that seem quite obvious on the surface, can be helpful.

  • Greg 6 years


    First of all I am an avid reader and my point is not meant as a personal attack though I read your response to me indicating such. I have read since it was a blog and even won a shirt in one of your contests more than three years ago. Honestly this is still the best site for knowledge of Chicago real estate.

    And Irishpirate I agree with most of your response. I am also imperfect in race and I think much of what joe writes is true. I would like to note that steering became a legal concept for a reason. Also, where in my comment did i write anything recommending he not Write a post like this. My comment was meant as a challenge, not intended to override his article. With this being said let me try to make my points more succinct:

    1. My main point is that Joe, you have an audience and I argue with that comes responsibility. My comments do not carry the same weight as an article so I believe that part of your response creates a false premise. How do you not have a responsibility to touch on points you bring up in your own blog post? Does calling something you write a blog post abdicate you from this responsibility? Is this not a job you are paid to do? What your your thoughts on ethical responsibility in journalism? Is this journalism or not, I mean that as an honest question as I am not sure of the answer to that. Joe from our previous discussions I know you have experience in work with people from all sorts of socioeconomic backgrounds, and I guess that is why I am surprised, especially I your response.

    2. David’s initial response is exactly what I am afraid of and speaks to how people rely on your articles. He also has a great reason to being that buying a home is the largest investment most will make. To David, you are correct about humboldt park IMHO.

    3. Joe, all I mean by context is providing the understanding that there are exceptions to every rule and in a case like this you are throwing them under the bus. I guess I am asking, is every neighborhood that has a sign like this guarantee drug or gang activity? What about the infamous blue lights that scare everyone I know. I have no interest in being pc nor am I asking you to refrain from an article like this as I still think it has high value. All I am saying is you know this city well and it might benefit a reader’s understanding of this city to hear about an exception to the rule. I admit in a general sense I totally agree with your initial article.

    Finally, Joe, was my point so disrespectful that I deserve personal attacks? My fantasy? Scurrilous comments? I would argue your response is the most scurrilous. I was hoping to have a constructive conversation as we have had in the past. I even made it a priority to point out that I don’t believe you are in any way racist as I was concerned about what others may take away from my response. I respect your writing and opinions, that is why I hold you to a high bar. All I am attempting to say that this type of post has the power to further a misunderstanding about this city. Eg. the whole south or west side is terribly dangerous. Excuse the run on of this comment, consider it a humble attempt to get this discussion back on track. Thanks to everyone for your previous and further comments. Most importantly, Joe, YoChicago is in every rss feed reader on every device I own, I see you putting in work and thanks for doing it!

  • Greg,

    You’re as adept at finding a personal attack where there wasn’t one as you were at suggesting racism where there wasn’t any. Saying your comment is scurrilous isn’t saying you are.

    The mere suggestion of a racist intent behind my posts – and you clearly suggested it – is an ugly thing, and my first inclination is to consider anyone who would do that without having any basis for it a vile creep.

    I’m not, to phrase things in your indirect fashion, suggesting that you are a vile creep, so you shouldn’t consider this a personal attack. If you continue to suggest, no matter how obliquely, that I’m motivated by a racial agenda I will justifiably conclude you’re a lowlife.

    Google Analytics tells me that 88% of our visitors during the past 30 days were here for the first time, and the vast majority of them won’t be back. My post made a simple point in a way that I thought would be useful to that type of an audience, whose context for what I wrote is the Pollyannaish writing on most real estate sites.

    I’ve been writing for a transient audience for 25 years now, in print and online, and I’ve heard directly and in person from thousands of readers over the years. Hold open the possibility that I might have at least some feeble grasp on what I’m doing.

    The type of context you’re asking for is ludicrous. Take it up with the Tribune or the Sun-Times who routinely report gang activity – or the alderman I quoted who failed to mention there isn’t gang activity on every block in his ward. I recently provided context for a Sun-Times story on gang activity.

  • Mike 6 years

    Please give an example of a school in Chicago that does NOT have one of these safe school signs. Examples of schools that do: Bell, Blaine, Coonley… the list could go on. I suppose there’s more gang activity in these neighborhoods than in Winetka but than in other Chicago neighborhoods????