Students nervous about getting from Burton-Judson to Regents Park after dark would most likely turn to SafeRide, not the University’s Marketplace website. On Sunday night, however, between listings for ride-sharing and babysitting, was a post titled “Are you tired of being afraid to go out at night in Hyde Park?”
The question was posed by Angela Bailey, a first-year graduate student at the School of Social Administration (SSA).
“Things like ‘safe ride’ and the ‘umbrella system’ are helpful in helping students avoid becoming the victims of violence but in many ways they are also just band-aids for what is a much bigger problem,” Bailey wrote in the ad. “I’m interested in starting a comprehensive campaign to make Hyde Park safer at night for everyone who lives here. Imagine how wonderful it would be if you could go out alone to Walgreens at 3 a.m. without being afraid.”
Currently in its preliminary stages, the campaign will begin as an SSA–based group that will meet for the first time next week. Bailey has broad goals, such as increasing foot traffic around Hyde Park and diminishing tensions between the University and the community, as well as specific ideas, such as asking businesses to lengthen their hours at night. She said she eventually hopes to channel the interest of other University and community members into the campaign.
Kate Elliott, a first-year SSA student who responded to Bailey’s ad and has also taken a leadership role in the campaign, agreed with Bailey’s belief that residents’ general fear of walking the streets after dark aggravates Hyde Park’s safety issues.
“The problem with Hyde Park tends to be that everything shuts down at eight p.m. or 10:00 p.m. at the latest, so besides Jimmy’s there’s nothing to do and nothing open—so why would anyone go out anyway?” Elliott said.
Bailey, who grew up in Harlem, said that she had never felt unsafe in New York City and that she had not expected such a significant shift in her feelings of safety in Hyde Park. She was also surprised by the disparity in the volume of foot traffic between New York City and Chicago, even on the North Side.
“There might be some places in the boroughs [of New York City] where I wouldn’t feel comfortable going, but the large part of the city is accessible to everyone,” she said. “But even at nine o’clock on State Street and Balboa, it’s desolate. You can’t even believe those businesses were open a few hours earlier and were crowded.”
Bailey feels this difference might have its roots in the sharp racial and socioeconomic disparities among Chicago’s neighborhoods.
“New York City has some problems with that as well, but I’ve never seen segregation so clear-cut as I’ve seen it in Chicago,” Bailey said. “Segregation scares me because it makes me feel like everyone’s not welcome in every part of the city.”
Bailey received about 20 responses to her posting. She said about half the responses were optimistic and supportive of her cause, and about half were skeptical that a difference could be made.
“A lot of people saying ‘this is important, I want to help, what are your ideas?’” she said. “It seems like a lot of people are interested in helping, but no one knows what to do.”
Three respondents, she said, suggested gentrification or displacement of non-white residents as a solution to the neighborhood’s safety problems.
“When I made my posting, a lot of people assumed that just because a lot of people at the U of C are white, I was white,” said Bailey, who is black. “Some of the things they said—I’m glad I got to hear them.”
Bailey said she wrote back to the respondents asking them to consider whether gentrification might be part of the safety problem, but she did not overlook their desire to be involved.
“Three people basically saying that they’re afraid of people of color,” she said. “And out of that fear come statements like ‘they are the problem.’ What I responded back was, ‘you’re welcome to be involved, but it’s the type of campaign where you’re going to have to check your biases at the door.’”
Bailey and Elliott both said their effort would seek the help of many other neighborhood institutions.
“We want to talk to the police department, the University of Chicago Police Department, the alderman, and store owners to create some kind of program to promote people going out,” Elliott said.
Bob Mason, executive director for the South East Chicago Commission, a Hyde Park organization that tracks crime statistics, agreed that having more crowded streets would be conducive to safety.
“We’d love to see more people on the street because the way the individuals who commit these crimes generally operate is they drive around the neighborhood, looking for people walking down the street where nobody’s around,” Mason said.
He also believes that increasing foot traffic has its limits in promoting overall safety.
“If we had more entertainment venues on 53rd Street, we’d probably be able to get more people to go out,” Mason said. “But on the side streets and residential areas, you’re not going to get people out there at all times of the night—and that’s all over the city, over all urban areas…. That’s why, realistically, we have to find other solutions like SafeRide and the umbrella service.”
Bailey believes that programs like SafeRide improve safety for students but fail to reduce students’ and residents’ fears of their own neighborhood.
“I think the University really does care about student safety, but the way they’re dealing with it, with these Band-Aids, is not entirely productive,” she said.
Elliott agreed that safety-related fears are a problem in themselves, saying that such fears have compelled many students, especially graduate students, to seek housing outside the neighborhood. Bailey feels that many people simply accept the safety situation as unalterable, never thinking about how it could be fundamentally changed.
“I hear women—really strong women who consider themselves feminists—who are afraid to go out,” Bailey said. “While SafeRide and the umbrella system are helping individual people, they’re not helping us not feel afraid. And I think it’s debilitating to live in fear.”