We want to move into an up-and-coming neighborhood, but our family’s putting us off!

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Isolated Building Study 73 (Residential Rehab)

Etsy addict asks:

My husband and I both work downtown in a small southern city. Back when we were kids, you’d be nuts to be caught downtown after sundown, but these days the area has been really revitalized with tons of restaurants, festivals, condos, etc.

While there are still areas you don’t want to be caught in after dark, a lot of the once sketchy neighborhoods have started to clean themselves up and become nice places with 1940s bungalows and ranches available for CHEAP! My husband and I have found one such bungalow across the street from one of the best magnet elementary schools in our city — there’s a playground right next door, it’s within walking distance of our work, and the city greenway runs beside the property. It’s amazing!

We mentioned to our parents we were thinking of buying in this neighborhood and my mother-in-law FLIPPED OUT. “YOU’RE GOING TO RAISE CHILDREN IN A CRACK DEN?!” Those were her actual words. Now my husband is shying away from buying this house and talking about living in the suburbs.

Do any of you Offbeat Homies live in a “sketchy” neighborhood? How is your experience living in such a neighborhood? What sorts of challenges do you face? If can talk rationally with my mother-in-law about other people’s experiences in such a neighborhood, maybe it will calm her fears.

Comments on We want to move into an up-and-coming neighborhood, but our family’s putting us off!

  1. We got a great deal on a house in a lower-income neighborhood just after we got married. We also got crack addicts pissing on the street in front our house, drunks sleeping in the back of our pickup. things stolen from our yard, and my 7 year old son stuck with a hypodermic needle that his friend found in a shed , and him having to be tested for aids. Our little home was a haven from this chaos, but we felt so connfined and unsafe all the time. It wasn’t worth the financial savings. don’t do it.

    • holy shit! I don’t have anything constructive or helpful to say, but that is an absolutely horrible experience. I am so sorry you had to go through something so nightmareish :S

      • Thanks-I do have to say that we left the place better than we found it. working with the cops to shut down 9 crackhouses. So, there’s the ONE good thing…

  2. I live in a somewhat sketchy area, but I don’t have kids. I don’t have any good advice on that matter. BUT! There is an awesome blog about a family of four that lives in Detroit, my home town. It’s called Sweet Juniper and you should read it. He often talks about the issues of living in a sketchy city. I hope that will help!


  3. I think that where you live is less of an issue than who you are living with. There are problems in every community, but as long as you are on the “straigt and narrow” yourselves and involved in your children’s lives, it shouldn’t matter where you live. Suburban kids are just as apt to end up in bad situations as kids from less than affluent neighborhoods if they are not taught good values. Living in so called “Crack Town” shouldn’t matter so long as you aren’t inviting the pusher man in to be your roommate. What’s going on inside a home is way more important than what’s going on outside. I don’t know that this will assuage your Mother in Law’s fears any, but I hope it helps.

  4. While I don’t live in a “sketchy” neighborhood, my boy certainly does. We have somewhat different definitions of what constitutes “sketchy” then the general American public (Living abroad does that) But getting to the point:
    His family? Totally fine with the neighborhood. Mine? Well they’ve never visited, but I’ve always been darn careful to avoid telling them where he lives ( and I live on the weekends) All of this is just back story, but some practical suggestions for you:

    1. His neighborhood has cops EVERYWHERE after sundown. Like 2 a block. Does this section of town?
    2. Take her downtown (during the day) and plan a full day of activities to show her how the neighborhood looks now. Try and pack the day so it’s dark before she realizes it and she sees it’s not as sketchy as she thinks
    3. Does the town publish crime statistics? Find them, and print them out for her. It’s possible the suburb where they want you to live actually has more crime–you’d be surprised.
    4. If the house is directly across from a school, law enforcement is way more likely to keep a closer eye on it, and it’s got to be designated a “drug free” zone.

    If all else fails? Talk to your husband about it unless he genuinely wants to move to the ‘burbs, move to the up and coming neighborhood anyway. Parents and in laws almost always come around. Visit them where they’re comfortable and wait until they’re comfortable at your place. Offer to walk them to your car. (My boy had to do this once when we had friends visiting…I giggled. Mainly because the neighborhood just looks rough, it’s actually quite safe)

    • As a caveat:
      I did *not* feel safe walking around this neighborhood at night when he moved in. But that is because I am lilly white and stick out like a sore thumb in that neighborhood. My boy, by contrast, is ethnically ambiguous and when I was with him, no one said anything. Once I realized that the worst it ever got was catcalling, I was fine. So as far as “night test walks go”…do a couple. Both with and without your husband.

  5. We bought a house in the rural version of this – an 1880s neighborhood in the country that was abandoned 60 years ago. We bought it as part of a larger effort to restore the neighborhood. When we bought it, the backyard was still being used as an informal dump, and prostitutes used the area as their “office.”

    10 years later, there are 15 kids in the ‘hood, and no trace of condom wrappers in the dirt. The best part about raising a family in this environment was the sense of choosing a place with a purpose, not just living in a place that could be in Anytown, USA. My neighbors share this sense of intentional living. I think the benefits of living in an urban setting are huge for a family, including being able to walk to school, to the playground, and all the businesses opening downtown.

    Good luck, I’m rooting for you!

  6. Kudos to you for being willing to live in and invest in a neglected neighborhood! People like you are needed to fill those empty homes. I agree with Elizabeth’s comment; it’s fulfilling to know that your mere presence is making a difference in your community, and you’ll likely meet other awesome passionate neighbors doing the same.

    I’ve lived in neighborhoods with bad reputations, and even now that I live in the safest area in town, some people still wonder how I manage to live in “the city” without getting shot or whatever.

    The best antidote is information. Share crime stats, what neighborhood organizations are doing, school performance, whatever positive may be going on.

    Even more importantly is for people to visit your neighborhood. They’re often afraid because of what they see on the news, and they’ve never even ventured there. Take your mother-in-law on a neighborhood tour, treat her to dinner at an area restaurant, or tour a school or community organization together. Help her see what you love about this home and this area.

    If you choose to live there, you may have to indeed make some concessions to safety, depending on what’s truly going on in the neighborhood. Your kids may not be able to run around alone after dark like they could in a different area. They may witness activity they wouldn’t see elsewhere. You might hear more sirens. For some people, that’s no big deal, for others it’s too big of a sacrifice. Common sense is usually all that’s required to stay safe. Most (though certainly not all) violence in my city is perpetuated by and on people who are involved with drugs, gangs, prostitution, etc. Innocent bystanders can be and are harmed but it’s not that likely overall.

    When I lived in the “rougher” part of town, I usually felt comfortable. What I actually liked least, and what would keep me from wanting to move back there, is that the neighborhood was a pretty isolated desert without a lot of busines investment. That meant that banks, grocery stores, bakeries, florists, food co-ops, restaurants, drug stores, coffee shops, etc. were few and far between. I had to do a lot more driving and biking to meet my daily needs, and when I wanted to go out and have fun I usually had to go to other parts of town. For my roommates without cars, accessing these things was even tougher. Whether or not that is true of your potential community, and whether or not that would bother you, is something only you can decide.

    One other thing to keep in mind is your investment as homeowners. Depending on which way the neighborhood is swinging, your house may lose value or gain it. Appreciation might be limited. It mgiht be tougher to rent the place out or find roommates. If you’re not planning to stay for a very long time, you might put more into the home then you’ll get out–but again, that’s dependent on your local market.

    Good luck and best wishes!

  7. I, indeed, live in a sketchy neighborhood in an adorable victorian we’re renovating ourselves. My kids are still very little (2 & 8mos) so things like going out to play aren’t really an issue yet. Sure, we helped to shut down the whore/crackhouse across the street, and there are a lot of vacant properties around us. But it’s such a hard call to make. I love our house, I hate our neighborhood. We plan on doing things like adding fencing to contain the kids as they get older & give us some privacy, but the plan has always been to move somewhere nicer before the kids start school (our district doesn’t do magnet schools & they’re the worst in the area). The kids were really the unplanned part. We have some nice neighbors and some not nice, and we do go on walks through the neighborhood behind our house (we live on a main thoroughfare), but I mean, I wouldn’t let my kids just go off and play.
    Sounds more like you have a mother-in-law issue than you do a lifestyle issue. :/

  8. Look for your local crime map! Many states and major cities have interactive crime maps, using information submitted by police stations, that will show you everything going on in the area including break-ins, arson, assault, etc. If it’s as safe as you think, show it to your parents! (Also maybe the local sex offender registry, if you think that will help ease their minds) Or maybe you might find that the area isn’t as safe as you thought, which is why it’s worth looking into. Maybe make a couple of visits to the house, at different times of day. Is it cute during the day, but the sketchy people come out at night? Do you know a cop? They’ll tell you what’s what about the neighbourhood.

    I used to live in the sketchiest possible neighbourhood in a major Canadian city. Every time you heard about a drug bust, arson, stabbing, whatever, it was in my neighbourhood. And yeah, we called 911 a few times, like when the laundromat down the street was broken into. And no, maybe I wouldn’t have gone out for a run at midnight, but that didn’t mean the neighbourhood was worthless. There was a constant effort to take it back from the crime, to aggressively reclaim greenspace, to make it a safe place for children. It was a good place, that was constantly getting better. Some places suck, but that doesn’t mean that they will always suck.

    The thing is, crime happens everywhere, even in the suburbs.

  9. I live in the UK so it’s probably rather different to you guys. But I live in an area people look askance at. It had famous race riots about 30 years ago & people haven’t moved on yet in their minds. My street is famous for drug dealing & prostitutes, but we haven’t had any problems in the 5 years we have lived here. It’s patrolled by police at night. Right now my daughter is out playing with 4 other kids who live in our house or next door, & I can hear the neighbours chatting & doing the gardening. It’s got a great community feel & really exciting projects happening.

    • Yay for Brixton (unless I’ve misunderstood the reference there!). 🙂

      To be honest, I’m in my early 20s, and almost all my friends live in what were once considered dodgy areas, but they all live in great places.

      I think there can often be a generational disconnect with these things. My parents associate certain areas (of London, especially) with crime/riots etc, but I just don’t have the same associations, because that stuff hasn’t happened for twenty years or more. If you can live somewhere that middle-aged people (mistakenly) think is dangerous, then you’ve got a bargain, and probably a great community too.

      This works both ways – people can have a false sense of safety. The historic centre of Cambridge has incredibly high crime (in fact one of the streets has one of the highest incidences of crime in the country), but because it’s all pretty and mediaeval and studenty, people feel really safe. And then act like idiots with their personal safety, but that’s another story.

      • OH…now I understand “The Guns of Brixton” by The Clash (though I understand that the song was written before the riots). Thanks to you and Anna for prompting me to look it up and learn the history behind it!

        And you make a good point about the associations of older generations. A lot can change in 20 years; good neighborhoods can go bad, and bad neighborhoods can improve. Lots of places have undeserved reputations.

  10. I don’t have kids, but I do live in a “sketchy” area. It’s a college town, but not a particularly big college, and the city has its pockets of nasty. We live next to a half-way house, which is actually really nice because the people there are fixing their lives and are always very nice to us. On the other hand, a friend got mugged on the corner two blocks away, and we once had to call the cops on the drunk across the street when he started harassing us one evening, (the guys at the half-way house tried to talk him down to no avail.) The worst thing about a sketchy area in my mind is that as a woman I do not feel safe out of doors at night, which is rough in the winter with evening classes. (Not that being a woman should effect my safety, the mugged friend is a guy, but in my mind I’m an easier target.) The best thing is that rent is cheap and sometimes people surprise you. All of this may well be irrelevant if your place is no longer at all sketchy, but if there are still issues… Well, it’s not dangerous until the one time it is, and then it is sometimes too late :/

  11. I live in a “sketchy” part of our city that is also a fantastic place to live. It is one of the few neighborhoods that has racial diversity in our city, there are a lot of parks and green spaces, and many many cool cultural things happening on a regular basis.

    Yesterday at the park closes to our house (which is part of a corner that includes a community center, ball fields, a pool, and a high school) there was also a shooting. No one was injured, but it was pretty scary to be playing on the slide with my 18 month old one minute and cowering under it the next.

    Still, for my husband and I the benefits outweigh the risks. Our values are better served by staying where we are, using the privileges we have to pressure law enforcement and government to do their part, and supporting the grassroots efforts to make our neighborhood better.

    Of course it affects us. I’ll probably avoid that park for a while as I process the experience. But I also don’t want to teach my daughter that the best response to danger is to move somewhere that promises “safety”. I think that is an illusion, personally.

    I think that knowing what you are getting into, having confidence that you will be able to build community with the people who live in close proximity to you, and being clear about how where you live supports the values that you hold as a family is really key, regardless of where the location of your home is.

  12. Greenway? Markets? Great school? Culture? Life? Man I’ll put up with a few off color folk to avoid living in the burbs any day. We live downtown, don’t own a car, walk everywhere with our little guy, and love it!

  13. My roommate and I have been living on the “rough side” of town for a year now, and we wouldn’t want to live anywhere else!

    My family was worried at first because of how tough the area looked with siding falling off, roofs caving in, and foundations slipping on a majority of the houses. Not to mention the people drinking on their porches and someone telling me to be careful what color bandanna I wore. (Turns out it doesn’t matter since I’ve worn every color of the rainbow with no trouble what-so-ever.) After staying a few times during the year, though, my family realized that despite not being the prettiest neighborhood, things were more than safe. There are families there, and the only “problems” we have are the occasional person asking for spare change or the neighbor’s trash ending up in our yard.

    My dad is even pushing for my partner and I to consider living there after we get married because he likes the place so much!

    However, because my roommate’s family has only ever been here to take her home for a weekend, they still tried to convince us to move. Her sister especially made me laugh when she wouldn’t get out of her car to help carry some artwork downstairs. Her reason? “I would but we’re kind of in the… you know, the ghetto.”

    Basically, my advice is to let the in-laws visit, maybe even spend a night or two in the neighborhood, and let the area speak for itself. Telling them its safe is one thing, but most people need to see it for themselves. 🙂

  14. We lived in this exact situation (across from a school and everything!)and a couple of things you can do right away
    1. meet your potential neighbors. do some canvasing and see if you can determine whos right next door. Knowing that we lived next to the elderly woman on one side and the family of four on the other made us more comfortable about the potential crime down the street.

    2. if you do move in, fencing! and then thouroughly check and clean out the yard. This saved us from a few nasty accidents and the fence kept others out of our yard.

    3. the school across the street from us was very well lit but we also put up a motion light on our garage and it made me very happy to know when someone was walking by.

    4. Be a happy healthy positive influence! its amazing how much one family and clean up their little corner of a neighborhood! we enjoyed it so much, and it was priceless sharing vegetables with neighbors who were amazed at a home garden.

  15. As someone from a Southern city, I find there are many people who fall into a panic about the safety of living in any neighborhood that is not suburban and overwhelmingly white. Of course there are bad neighborhoods, but sometimes this can be just ignorance or worse (not to imply either is the case).

    Some people would consider my neighborhood sketchy and dangerous. I roll my eyes. I wouldn’t leave a bike out in my front yard or my house unlocked when I am not home, but I don’t fear for my safety. For some people, this is a deal breaker, but I just make sure I lock up anything I wouldn’t want stolen.

    I would advice you to do some research and a gut check.

    Would you feel safe walking alone at night? During the day? Would you feel safe about your kid playing outside? Would things get stolen in the yard? Are there alot of break ins? Could you get a security system? Are the answers to these questions acceptable to you? If they aren’t acceptable, maybe you should keep looking.

    Who will your neighbors be? This can make a huge difference. If you trust and like the people next door and on your block, that is awesome. If you are living next to a house that makes you uncomfortable, is that fear at legitimate? If you are going to be uncomfortable maybe you should reconsider.

    I would suggest comparing crime rates in this neighborhood to others. Sometimes they aren’t any higher in “sketchy” neighborhoods than any others. I would suggest spending some time in the neighborhood also. Walk around, check out the park, check it out at night. Try it on. How do you feel? Okay? Uncomfortable?

    Weigh the facts and how you feel. I think that will allow you to make the best decision.

    • YES. I’m in the South too and a family member of mine bought a house in a black part of town and people call his house “the crack house” just because of where it is, but he has a million super friendly neighbors that he actually knows and nothing bad has ever actually happened nearby. Contrast that to an apartment I had in a very nice area and the (white, middle class) guy who moved in after we left randomly raped and murdered a woman the next street over. Admittedly that’s not a common occurrence (and yeah, I’m still a little freaked out about it) but still, living in a “non-sketchy” area doesn’t prevent your neighbors from being criminals who will hurt you. Some people forget that when they are lost in a forest of bigotry and stereotypes.

      • Just wanted to say I’m not saying that the OP’s family specifically is racist (bad areas of cities totally exist and it makes sense to be concerned), just that I have encountered a lot of racism that manifests that way. And I have definitely seen it in my own family from time to time.

      • “As someone from a Southern city, I find there are many people who fall into a panic about the safety of living in any neighborhood that is not suburban and overwhelmingly white. Of course there are bad neighborhoods, but sometimes this can be just ignorance or worse (not to imply either is the case).”


        My husband and I (and my 13 year old stepson) bought a house in a neighborhood considered sketchy by a lot of folks in our city. We love it, and not just for the gorgeous old house we’re fixing up and the plethora of fantastic taco trucks on the busy street a few blocks away (where, yes, one was robbed at gunpoint a few months ago…)

        We always say that we’d rather have our crazies out walking around the streets where we can see them, than shut up in McMansions out in the suburbs where you only find out their craziness when it makes the evening news.

        We love the diversity and the liveliness of our neighborhood. We love that we are fixing up a little corner of it. It is completely in line with our values to be in a place where people are different from us. We want to be actively challenged to concretely love our neighbor (like our faith asks of us…)

        We found the neighborhood association and now know a ton of people from all backgrounds who love this place and want to make it shine. Finding co-conspirators, allies, people with the same values, etc. can go a long way towards making a neighborhood feel like a friendly place.

    • I completely agree! I live in a neighborhood in St. Paul, MN that some members of my family consider sketchy – because people of color live in it, and in the very-segregated city they are from, people of color = bad neighborhood. For them, it is definitely a combination of racism and things just being different in different cities. (Of course, not to say your family is racist – but some members of mine are.)

      My neighborhood is definitely not upscale, but I love it because the people here are down-to-earth and friendly, and it’s so diverse. One thing that’s really helped me show my family how not-sketchy my neighborhood is has been getting involved in community groups and projects. It’s hard for them to think I live in the ghetto when I’m planting vegetables at a community garden down the street and attending neighborhood working group meetings on the weekends. I could never go back to suburban living because the community aspect is just non-existent there, in my experience.

      • Yay St. Paul! I am an Eastsider, now living on the south side of Minneapolis and I’d rather live in the ‘hood than a suburb any day of the week.

  16. We lived in downtown Fairbanks, Ak on South Cushman street for a while. There have been more gang shootings there than anywhere else in the rest of the city. There was a strip club down the street and and elementary school 2 blocks away. But the rent was nice, the landlord was amazing and we could have out kitty without getting harrassing letters from the LL that looked like a very badly put together randsome note. We lived there for a bit over a year, and in that time I have called the police more times than I had in the rest of my life. There was a fire in the apartment complex down the street, a comestic disturbence (NEVER be afraid to call if you think someone is in danger no matter where you live) And the strange man living in the abaondoned cars behind our building just to name a few.
    The biggest challenge I had was realizing that not everyone that lived there was a bad person. The girl upstairs from us was a sweet lady with 2 kids and just got out of a bad situation. The guy across the street was looking like a man from a murder mystery, but was just an introverted man that loved his plants and dog. But if you’ve ever been to Fairbanks and tell people you lived downtown people would cringe, we couldn’t have parties because no one wanted to leave their cars where they had a bigger chance at getting jacked or slashed. But we were happy there untill we wanted a bigger place, we just had to coax people to come out to our place. I think if you were to show you’re mom in law the changes they made to the area she might see it in a better light. 🙂 Sorry I kina got off track there.

    • 1st comment up – that was in Fairbanks, on the Southside too! small world. you’re lucky you rented and didn’t buy. It took us 3 years to sell our house. My mom actually paid us to leave after getting death threats from some of the dealers.

      • OMG! This is a small world! Yah the guy sleeping in the cars behind the building looked like he was either crashing or tweeking from something! But i AM glad we got out when we did.
        *yay AK pride!!*

  17. I went through the same thing with a friend of mine. We finally found a house we love and can afford, and the first words out of her mouth were “You know that’s not a very safe neighborhood, right?” My mom even got guff from a co-worker when she told them where our new house was. She pointed out that crime doesn’t stop south of Main St. She and my dad live in a very nice neighborhood and had both their cars broken into last summer in their driveway!
    Honestly, if we shied away from every place that had crime, we’d have to leave the planet. My partner and I plan to use practical safety precautions: lock our doors at night, buy a basic security system, check the sex-offender registry, maybe get an intimidating-looking dog…

  18. I think the key here is that this area *used* to be sketchy, and still is in parts that are *not* where you’re looking. I grew up in a town like this. Lots of bad press- drive-bys, drugs, stabbings, high schoolers getting arrested for murder, all a couple of miles from my childhood home, where my parents still live. When I was a freshman in college, the local paper reported that we had the most per-capita crime in New York State. Lots of hometown pride when THAT article made the rounds. It was fun when we got married in my church…it’s in the old section of town, which is where much of the violence is, and some poor people drove past the church looking for parking. Boarded up windows, anyone?

    However, some areas of the city have seen growth in the past few years. My best friend took me to this *adorable* coffee shop a few years ago on a street that used to be known for drugs and prostitution (and still is on some blocks I believe). There are now little boutiques and bars open in the area. Same for the waterfront. Some of the older houses are being renovated- these gorgeous old Victorians that I’d LOVE to live in, if we a) lived in the area and b) my husband wasn’t still afraid of my hometown. I really hope the place is coming back, bit by bit.

    I guess my point is, the area you’re looking in an area that’s growing, that’s not spiraling down with crime. Show your MIL what you see. Show her the stats from the nearby school (I’m sure it’d be a point of pride that her grandkid(s) will go to one of the best schools in the area), take her to these restaurants and festivals. If she doesn’t come around…..well, you guys have to do what’s best for you, right?

    • A caveat, though: any children you raise in this area could grow up to believe all doors need to be locked and all safety precautions need to be taken at all times no matter where you are. My husband and I have a house in a really nice area with low crime. Doesn’t stop me from locking the doors when I’m home alone, and I originally wanted lights in our backyard when we first moved in. Of course, he grew up in a lovely, middle-of-nowhere town where his relatives *still* leave their doors unlocked when they’re not home, so maybe he’d think I’m paranoid regardless. But something to think about!

      • I don’t think it’s bad to have a better safe than sorry attitude, regardless of where you live. My parents grew up in rural Texas and now live in a house where they have no idea where their house keys are. And there was a break-in just down the street from them awhile back. It’d probably be good to know where their keys are lol.

  19. I just moved into a sketchy neighborhood, though I’m renting and don’t have kids. In NY a couple of blocks makes a world of difference in rent prices (although, admittedly, rent is still ridiculously high!). My boyfriend wanted to make sure I was completely comfortable living there, and wouldn’t feel nervous at night. So before we moved in, I looked up crime statistics at the local precinct. They were surprisingly low compared to surrounding areas that are supposedly nicer. Showing your MIL statistics just might be enough concrete evidence to change her mind. Especially if show them alongside statistics from a nice neighborhood that has a worse crime rate (you’d be surprised). Worst case scenario is that the statistics don’t look so pretty, in which case, you might want to reconsider anyway. The more you know!

    Looking at the statistics certainly assuaged my fears, and while I do feel slightly uncomfortable walking around at times, it’s really not much different from how I feel when I’m by my job uptown near Madison Sq. Garden. I also once called a local precinct as well to find out about an apt I was thinking of renting. The officer on the phone told me not to move there. His words: “There’s a lot of nonsense that goes down on that street.” Then he listed the “nonsense”. That was enough for me!

  20. Maybe it was my naivete, but I lived in one of those “up and coming but not quite” neighborhoods when I first moved to my city (a southern smallish Metropolis with a revitalized downtown) and I loved it. I didn’t go walking after dark because when I did I was accosted by a drunk asking for money. I knew there were certain blocks I should shy away from, and I did that and I was fine. But I walked my neighborhood and the surrounding areas almost every day for the two years I lived there.

    My advice is to give your potential new neighborhood the Weekend-night test. Go hang out in the area on a Friday or Saturday night and see what there is to see. Do a few drive-throughs at different times of the day/week. Also, check the crime trackers in your area if they’re available. One of the news teams in my city has a crime tracker you can check on their website. Just put in the address and it will show you, month by month, the crime rates and types in the area. 🙂

    I embraced my up-and-coming neighborhood and lived to tell the tale. My memories are fond, and I’d move back, even with kids, in a heartbeat.

  21. Well I currently live in Philly so anyplace I move with few exceptions will have a lower crime rate. When we started looking for a house, I looked for the crime rates near by (theft and arson are really common in the burbs I’ve noticed), the number of schools, and the police presence. Nothing tamps down on crime rates like actual police presence.

    I’ve lived in Philadelphia all my life and I’ve never been the victim of a crime. My dad had a car stolen once but that could happen any place. The main issue for me is infrastructure, if there’s no investment in an area, and no police then of course crime will flourish.

    If this is an up and coming area, it should be obvious that people are investing in the area, the homes are getting purchased, families are moving in and staying. I think that’s the best barometer.

    • Yay Philly! I would love to live there, but work in NJ and don’t want to pay the bridge toll every day. I’m currently looking for a new apartment, and I’ve seen a lot of affordable places that look nice but are in Camden. The city has a terrible reputation, but I feel like there must be parts that are okay. I live within walking distance of Camden now (as do friends of mine) and the neighborhood is safe. How could it be so different a few blocks away? Until now, I’ve been avoiding the city altogether, but this post has inspired me to do a little research.

  22. In every city we lived in (Philly, Hartford, DC, New Orleans and now Baltimore) we have lived in “sketchy” neighborhoods. Some were actually sketchy and some were my suburban mother’s view of sketchy. Either way we have had very few problems. Once our house got broken into when we were away and there were always car break-ins. But I never felt like I was risking my personal safety. Interestingly, in a lot of cities more crimes such as muggings take place in the more posh neighborhoods. I think it is because it is expected that people have more money there and the saying “don’t piss where you eat.”

    So our place is now is wonderful. We actually moved there because it is a great place to start a family. Big house 3 bedrooms, fenced yard. But it is again in a “sketchier” neighborhood. We live next door to people selling some sort of drugs. But they are very polite and we really just go about our business and let them go about theirs.

    When our parents come to visit we try to take them to the cool stuff in the area parks, restaurants, neat shops, etc. to show them what a great area it is. But just like the Gremlins, we never feed them after dark. Not because we are scared but because I think our neighborhood looks a lot better in the light. We are usually inside the house or back to their hotel before the sun goes down. This helps them feel safer, I think.

    As far as your S.O. – mine was never reluctant to live in the sketchier places before but since there was talk of procreation he was a little reluctant before this move. But we spent a lot of time in this ‘hood, going out, walking around, looking at places, before we made the decision to move there and that made him a lot more comfortable with the decision.

  23. It’s hard for people, especially suburb dwellers to understand a city can change

    Others mentioned get the police data. Yes, do this. In addition, find out when/where the caps/neighborhood watch meetings are held, go to one and learn more about the neighborhood. Talk to your would-be neighbors. Find out what they like and don’t like about the place. Does your city have an alderman or equivalent? Talk to their office, find out more. Search for blogs for that neighborhood as well. If it’s cleaning up like you say, then there are already proactive people out there trying to raise awareness of problems and improve the situation.

    Currently I live in one of the most “diverse” neighborhoods in my city. If your city is anything like ours (and frankly like most) good and bad can be a matter of a block away. I love my block, but yes, we have shootings. Strangely though, I’d rather be where I am than be 5 blocks west in the same neighborhood because they have more. I *wish* I could afford to live in a place located 5 blocks south though as it’s a beautiful well kept area there. Realistically we are moving out of the neighborhood, not because we don’t want to live here, if we could stay we would, but Single Family Homes don’t exist under the $1 million mark and we want a little yard, so we’re moving to an area that is also not considered the *best* but far from the worst.

    House hunting pro tip. Drop the kid with a baby sitter and go out in the area on a Fri/Sat night around 9pm. You will quickly learn what it’s like. If you can, get a scanner and the police channel and listen in for a bit. You can make the call on what’s safe enough or not for you. Also check it out on a Saturday day and even after school one day. This will give you the best insight on what’s going on. Is there trash in the alley’s? Lots of homeless, hookers, drunks? Again, you have to make the call but you can live a great life in a “sketchy” location

    If you move to the area, GET INVOLVED. Go to your neighborhood watch meetings, become a part of the advisory board. Ooh police bad? No just because you’re offbeat doesn’t mean you can’t have a good relationship with your police. They will recognize your address and it may get quicker action. It can also lead to a direct in-line with an officer or two so when you see something go down, you can let them know. Call the police. When you see something sketchy, call 911. And remember that 911 is for things that require immediate action. Also be proactive, be neighborly, invite people over for cookouts etc. As much if not more than you would in the suburbs.

    But, don’t buy the place if you think you’re going to have to hole yourself up away from what’s going on outside, you’d hate that.

  24. I live in Vancouver BC, and East Van is known by most people outside of Vancouver (and on the far wealthier West side) as a “sketchy” part of town for sure. This is due to the much lower cost of living, real racial diversity, and of course the infamous Downtown East Side, characterized by some of North America’s most extreme poverty and visible drug addiction. For me though, East Van is characterized by an extremely strong sense of community, awesome activism, and proud neighbourhoods full of families, festivals, and awesome food and shopping. So, what can you do to feel safe and convince your family that you are safe?
    Get to know the police presence and response in your nighbourhood. I know that if I call the city police (which I have on many occasions), the response will be prompt and thorough. I also know that if I contact the City with concerns, they will be thoroughly addressed. If you can’t get help when you need it (or even think you need it), it isn’t worth it to risk living somewhere that may be unsafe. And finally, get to know your neighbourhood and community! If you live in an area that might be a little sketchy but has a strong community that’s proud of where they live, then you know everybody is interested in living somewhere safe and will work hard to make sure it stays that way. In Vancouver, all the neighbourhoods on the east side are really characterized by this, and it’s something I’m wildly proud to be a part of.
    Good luck!

    • This. I live in East Van as well, and my family and friends had the same concerns when we moved here. We actually do have a crack-house across our alley (hilariously cheek-by-jowl with ‘drug-free’ single occupancy housing), but they’re generally no harm to anyone but themselves.

      The funny thing about “up and coming” “sketchy” neighbourhoods is that they usually attract people who are both aware and optimistic, which creates this fantastic community dynamic. People actually work to create communities and improve the space. From your description, it sounds like your area is farther away from the “sketch” end of the spectrum.

  25. While I do have no experience living in a particularly “sketchy” neighborhood, I have spent all my life in the suburbs and can assure you that suburbs do not automatically equal safe. Any place you live is going to have it’s problems and you just have to weigh the pros and cons. There’s a good number of sexual offenders in my neighborhood, where there are two schools. One of my friend’s family adopted a little girl and part of the adoption process included a report on all of the sexual offenders in a certain radius. Turns out there was a man convicted of child molestation just two doors down from them. Suburbs can also have problems with drugs. I knew a boy in high school who sold drugs out of his bedroom–just down the street from me. And I don’t even live i what is considered a “bad” part of town either. One of my closest friends lives in a much nicer area than I do. I used to always say that if I was still in this city when I had kids, I wanted to move there so they could go to the excellent schools. Turns out there is also an extraordinarily pervasive drug problem in that posh planned-neighbor. Unsavory people and problems can be found wherever you live, but the important thing is to find a place where the good (for you) outweighs the bad.

    • YES. I went to college with a guy who came from a pretty well-off family, the only difference was that they owned a farm out someplace in southern WI. And man oh MAN did this guy do drugs, deal, drink like a fish and thensome. Hell, most of the kids up there were the same–came from suburban neighborhoods or farms and this is all they did at home to pass the time. I heard stories that blew my mind.

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