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

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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. I live in Milwaukee, WI I grew up in a neighborhood that went from pretty good to decent to the point it’s at now, where the street where my parents currently live is one of a very few spots that isn’t falling to shit (the northside, for anyone who’s familiar). I lived there until last October (moved out for unrelated reasons) and, yeah the area wasn’t the greatest but I never had a serious problem there. Here’s why:

    -A close friend of mine put it this way, “If you act like a victim, you will be a victim.” Every time I walk anywhere on that side of town, I keep my head up and look forward, I ignore anything that is said to me, and I walk with purpose. Any of the small handful of times I’ve had issues, I’ve dealt with them quickly and went on my way. Yeah, crap’ll happen in a lot of cases regardless of what you do, but don’t make yourself a target and teach your children to do the same.

    -Use common sense. If you have valuables, don’t prop them in front of a large window and definately don’t keep your blinds/curtains open at all hours of the day and night. Don’t walk around any of those places you mentioned you wouldn’t be caught in a night unless you absolutely have to, and make it quick. Don’t associate with sketchy people and, if you have roommates, put your foot down on them associating with sketchy people. Either they quit the shit or get out–and make certain you have a way to support yourself and keep the place if they choose the latter.

    Those are the two biggest things I live by. I don’t know how or if that’ll help you talk with your mother-in-law, but there ya go. Good luck to you. Some places are legitimate shitholes and others just look that way to anyone who’s been cooped up in the suburbs their entire life.

  2. Ohhh, gurrrrrl. I live in a bad neighborhood and it’s not really that bad at all! Gets a little depressing sometimes, but we have not had any real scares. One teeny word of advice, though – get locking wheel nuts for your car. That’s it. In eight years of living in a bad neighborhood, the worst thing that happened is that someone stole my spare tire (off the back of my vehicle). Even my mom feels very safe in our neighborhood, and she is notoriously skittish.

  3. We live in a neighborhood that is gentrifying. When we bought our house, my then-boss said, “Man, ten years ago, that neighborhood just wasn’t safe.” It’s safer now, but still has its moments. Last night, my partner and I were on a walk with the baby and the dog and witnessed a man get arrested — he was standing outside his house, he had a gun, the cops had theirs out. We kept walking. But we’ve lived here for three years, and we probably experience one incident like that a year.

    I’ve never felt personally unsafe. But then, I don’t go to the park alone at night and I avoid the sketchy corner store where drug sales happen openly. (Which is down the block from a well-populated church and day care.)

    We really like living here. Our house is great and affordable. Lots of the neighbors have kids and chickens and gardens. There are restaurants and shops within walking distance. Ideally, we’d live in a different neighborhood, but only because our friends are there. Our place works for us.

  4. I live in an area of Seattle that I would have NEVER chosen to live in a few years ago. It was actually my partner in crime (who did not grow up in Seattle, and wasn’t influenced by the same stigmas I had in my mind) who had to convince me that the house we live in now was a good place to be.

    And it is. When I saw it, when I saw the newly renovated park right across the street, when I saw that the neighborhood was now clean & friendly, I was satisfied. We’ve been living here for 2 years now, and I still love it. If we didn’t need more space, and we weren’t looking to buy instead of continue renting, I would stay exactly where I am.

    I love my neighborhood for these reasons:
    1) it’s still considered the most diverse zipcode in the Seattle area, and if I had kids, this would be incredibly important to me in choosing an area to raise them in.
    2) I have never felt unsafe in or out of my home (although I probably wouldn’t walk too far away from home alone in the dark).
    3) we save $$, the house is affordable & near 2 bus lines that take us downtown.

    If your family is hung up on the stigma that neighborhood has, take them for a drive to show them how much it’s changed. If that’s not possible, go and take lots of pictures to send them. Seeing is believing.

    That said, make sure that the neighborhood really has changed as much as you think it has. Visit the area at different times of day to see how it feels. Make sure to get out & walk, things can feel very different once you’re out of the safety of your own car (if you get the feeling you don’t want to leave your car, don’t ignore that sign). Another thing to check is crime reports for the area. Also, check to see if they have a neighborhood blog & see how the community is reflected there.

    • another thing to mention is that since this area didn’t use to be so awesome crime-wise, a fire-house & police station have been moved quite close to where we are. When emergencies have happened in our neighborhood (like when a neighbor child discovered a new allergy & stopped breathing), the responders arrive SOFAST because they are already so close. If there is any benefit to living in a previously crime-ridden area, this is definitely a notable one. Check out to see where the nearest emergency responders are for your new neighborhood & point that out to your family if your situation is similar.

      • Just out of curiosity, what neighborhood? My husband and I are out in the Seattle suburbs and looking to move into the city. We’re new to the area, so don’t know the nuances of the neighborhoods yet.

        • I am guessing she is referring to Columbia City. I live in Seattle as well and I believe that was recently shown to be the most diverse zip code in the city.

  5. We lived in a ‘sketchy’ area when I was pregnant with our eldest and for a while when she was tiny. The only reason we moved was because we needed a larger, lowset house for my husband’s nan to come and live with us. We’d move back to that area if we found the right house. Walking distance to everything, including a nice waterfront boardwalk with cafes. Schools were lovely, it was actually a quiet and friendly area despite its reputation, neat yards and lovely seabreezes. I really miss living there!

  6. I live in an up-and-coming neighborhood in South Minneapolis and I love it. We have a beautiful 100-year-old condo that we wouldn’t have been able to afford in another part of town, especially since it includes a yard and garage and is half a block from a huge park.

    I’ve discovered that there is a real sense of community here, and the neighbors quietly keep watch out for each other. When newsworthy crimes happen, my neighborhood rallies together and has candlelight vigils in the park to “take back the neighborhood”. There are block parties and community gardens and large festivals in the park. It’s also very diverse with cute little coffeeshops and tasty Mexican restaurants galore.

    While I’ll walk anywhere in my neighborhood during the daytime, I will not walk by myself at night. I keep my doors locked always and I don’t leave my shades or windows open when I’m not home or when I’m sleeping because I’m on the first floor. It’s worth it to me to live where I do, though.

  7. A few thoughts, from someone who lives in the part of town that rates the “worst” on all the major crime indexes in my city and has visible poverty, prostitution, drug use and violence:

    I think it’s really important to sit down with your partner and think long and hard about your parenting philosophy. What kind of upbringing do you want to give your children? What values do you want to communicate to them by the choices you make? What parts of the world do you want them to see/experience/understand? Be honest about the answers to those questions, and there’s a good chance your answers will provide all the “back up” you need to justify your decision. There are plenty of reasons to raise children in a “sketchy” neighbourhood that have nothing to do with it being affordable (which it is!). Maybe you want your kids to be comfortable with people of diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. You’ll probably have a good mix in your “sketchy” neighbourhood. Maybe you want your kids to know a thing or two about how poverty, violence, drug abuse, racism, etc. hurt people. Those conversations can happen naturally and organically when your kids actually witness the consequences of these things in their daily lives. Maybe you want your children to understand that drug users and prostituted women are human beings that deserve respect (and if they’re your neighbours rather than just something they see in movies, that is a lot easier to convey). Living as a family in an area that is shunned by many people is a great opportunity for a real-world education for your kids. Does it require taking certain precautions (locking up bikes and doors, being mindful of your surroundings, and my personal favourite – never responding to honking horns or things shouted out of cars!)? Absolutely! Is it totally worth it to have socially-conscious, sensitive and compassionate children? You bet!

    There is a very wise mother I know who lives in my *sketchy* neighbourhood with her two children. When people ask her, “Don’t you worry about your kids being safe?” she always says, “I don’t want my kids to be safe. I want them to be strong.”

  8. I live in what is perceived as a “sketchy neighborhood.” People think it’s sketchy because it’s poor. It’s not sketchy (for the most part). It’s mostly disabled and elderly folks, middle-aged bachelors with clean lawns, and young families like ours.

    I’m about to move into a neighborhood (in a different city) that is perceived as sketchy, and it is sketchy. Sometimes places are skeezy as heck. But often, they’re not.

  9. I live in Memphis, and there are a ton of neighborhoods here that are slowing starting to make a come back. When we were looking for an apartment after first moving back to the city, we looked at an amazing place in a neighborhood called Hickory Hill. The complex was nice and at $540 for a two bedroom apartment it was a steal. We surveyed the area and there were a lot of nice sensible cars in the parking lot, and the landscaping was very well kept. Unfortunately when we told our family of locals where we were looking they immediately talked us out of it. All we remembered is that when we were kids, it was a really nice area. But apparently it had become a huge ghetto.
    So we ended up being talked out of it, and paying about $200 more for a smaller apartment just 5 minutes north. A few months later, friends of ours moved into that same complex and have had nothing but a positive experience. We seriously regret being talked out of it because apparently, after 10 years of decline, the area is on the rise yet again (as is the way of life in Memphis).

    Basically, what I learned is that I need to listen to my family’s advice, but to also do my own research. I found that there are websites devoted to pointing out where and where not to live in a given city. We found a lot of useful information about our city on a forum on city-data.com.

  10. Um… couldn’t you just live somewhere she didn’t like, and tough titties for her?

    I don’t mean to trivialise the issue, but for me, ‘growing up’ was all about deciding that keeping my family of origin happy about my life choices was a) impossible and b) an unfair expectation.

    I felt like a kid all through my twenties, depsite having a child of my own, considering parent’s judgments about my life important and relevent. Now, I just do what I want, they often don’t like it, but I am happy and finally feel like an adult free to choose. (30 now!)

  11. I used to live in a supposedly “sketchy” part of town, that had a large mentally ill population and its share of drug users. But it had been gentrifying, and there were loads of young families, lots of the professor/lawyer type, and it was fabulous!

    Compared to supposedly less sketchy areas, it was far more interesting, there were far more things to do, and people were far more outgoing for some reason!

    Perhaps the biggest difference is that I felt really safe there. Now I live in a semi-suburban area, and I honestly feel less safe now than I did then, because there are far fewer people and no one speaks to each other.

    On a nerdy note, I read somewhere (probably in a planning journal), that urban areas are actually safer for children because the biggest danger to children in the built environment is from traffic. In the suburbs, streets are wider, speed limits are generally higher, and there are more blind-spot areas such as cul-de-sacs and winding streets, all of which adds to the risk of injury or death for kids. Unfortunately I can’t find the study now 🙁

  12. We live in an old house that is surrounded by apartments. Cars use our street as a through way and zoom down it at breakneck speeds. We also live near a hospital so we get a lot of ambulances blaring their sirens almost every day.And in the summer evenings the neighbors smoke pot on their porches and the smell gets inside the house (we only use fans)

    However I can walk everywhere from here. The supermarket, the farmers market, the museum, the movie theater, the other theater, the library, even vintage and thrift shops. And with a nine month old in the house I love the fact that the hospital is nearby (I’m a worrier like that.

    Look at crime stats, if you’re desperate call the local police station and ask them how many times a day they have to answer calls in that certain area. If you’re feeling really gutsy, go knock on doors and talk to people.

  13. I skipped the comments, so I don’t know what other people have said. However, my opinion is that it depends on the “Sketchiness” of the neighborhood.

    I lived in one of the worst neighborhoods of my city for about two years. Everyone called it “Up and Coming” but that was because sometime in the next five-ten years the government was planning to start a revitalization. However, I would peg it as too sketchy to live in, only because when I walked the dog, I had to spend all my time making sure he wouldn’t step on dirty needles or attemt to eat a stray condom. My fave store to go to was frequently robbed, and it wasn’t unusual to stop by and see the cashiers with a black eye. I would have never been able to take my kid to a playground in the area, because I would have been too paranoid about who had gone to the washroom in the playground (and I don’t just mean #1 lol!).

    However, I do live in a neighborhood that most people wouldn’t raise kids in it, and I am excited to do so. I love it here and enjoy it, and I hope to never head to the suburbs.

    So if the neighborhood is, “Nearly up the mountain” go for it. If the neighborhood is “About to start the climb, but still in the valley of scary” then don’t bother.

  14. I had the same problem. My dad remembered my neighborhood in 1973. He had to see it to believe it.
    As far as “bad” neighborhoods go. I had to make a choice of what I considered “bad”. The worst people I’ve met in my life have lived in respectable burbs or quaint small towns. I can handle a neighborhood dope dealer but I can’t handle small town bullying.

  15. I’ve been living in the “sketchy neighborhoods” surrounding Center City Philadelphia for almost 7 years. I work in center city at a law firm and pay half the rent of my co-workers. I know every single one of my neighbors by name. I have been mugged/attacked three times in the city. 3 out of 3 times were in what are considered the nicest parts of Philadelphia. Once in Rittenhouse Square in the middle of the day and twice in University City. I have NEVER had a problem in what my co-workers and friends call my slum of a neighborhood. There are lots of drugs, abandoned homes, and criminals in my neighborhood but then again there are drugs and criminals everywhere. It’s just a little more obvious in the bad parts of town. The trick no matter where you live is to love your neighborhood and your neighbors and be a good person. You will be just fine.

    My husband and I have recently started giving out free veggies to our neighbors and their families that we get from local vendors.

    We are slowly creating the neighborhood that we have always wanted and our neighbors, even the un-friendly folks are coming around and saying hi.

    Have fun!!!

  16. I guess my best advice is just don’t go in blind. Drive and walk the neighborhood, check the sex offender and crime reports. Of course this is true for any neighborhood. Case and point, when we moved into our first apartment it was a nice looking neighborhood that everyone had a good opinion of and the price was reasonable. Once we lived there 2 years it started going down hill. We ended up moving out after the first meth lab was busted and the guy across the way was shot. Always check out where you’re going to live. Get the specs and decide what works for you.

  17. My husband and I bought in such a neighbourhood 7 months ago specifically because I was pregnant and we want to raise our kids here, and that’s in a surburb without such a great school and festivals etc. It seems that people who have lived in any one city for a long period of time have an opinion of suburbs that may well be from 10 to 15 years ago but does not reflect their current character – this is certainly the case with our suburb. Literally it was, and is still changing from being the slummy part of town to a family orientated, close knit community and guess what? WE LOVE IT! We would not live anywhere else in this city. In the last five years, as a house comes on the market it is normally purchased by a family with a stay at home mum (I’m aussie) and a tradeperson dad. They buy the house for cheap, renovate the house and raise their kids. Our neighbours are the nicest we have ever had, yes the police patrol often and that helps to make me feel safe, but I have never felt unsafe. I walk my baby daughter day and night by myself and have never had a problem. In fact I have met quite a number of my neighbours while they do the same. Do not let your mother in law change your minds, this is not her decision to make. I agree with the others, get crime stats, take her to a festival, lunch in a park. Also, maybe you and your husband could talk to some of the people who live there already – ask them what it is like. On more than one occasion, when we talk to someone who lives in our suburb about how much we like it here, both parties at the same time have said “even the druggies on the corner are quiet” 🙂

  18. i think the key is that “sketchy” is a mostly undefined, personal word.

    if by “sketchy” you actually mean “unsafe” then that is cause for concern. and, even so, it might only be cause for awareness rather than concern – often unsafe can be avoided by taking some basic precautions (on the other hand, no need for paranoia, as – even in the “safest” places – there is nothing you can do to fully guarantee that nothing bad will happen).

    or maybe “sketchy” means “all your neighbors are homeless dudes” – the reaction of most of my friends when i moved downtown. those guys were the best neighbors ever – i’ve never felt more safe. or perhaps it is code for “but that’s where black people live” – the reaction of some of my friends when we bought our house in our sweet, safe little neighborhood. at this point, you might want to reconsider those friends. or at least call them on their bullshit. of course, it’s a little different with family.

    “sketchy” might also mean “that place *used to be* really unsafe and sketchy.” it sounds like this is your mother in law’s take, but, of course, if folks are concerned by that it’s because their reaction to the place is stuck and hasn’t caught up to the reality. which mostly just takes time. but some crime facts and lobbying might help.

  19. I went to college in a very “sketchy” neighborhood of an already “sketchy” city. (In my second college apartment, we learned we were next to a crack house and my roommate’s car was tagged in a drive-by shooting). At first, I was terrified- coming from a white, middle-class town, I was so out of my element. Six years later, my fiance and I are still renting (looking to buy a triple-decker) in that same area, and I can’t imagine leaving.
    I am a teacher, and currently teach in one of the city’s disadvantaged urban high schools. However, I did my student teaching back at my old high school, and it was such an eye opener. So many of my students were spoiled, naive teenagers who would dress “ghetto” because that’s what in now-a-days… they had no idea the sort of lifestyle they were trying to emulate was one born out of a socio-economic situation they will never have any understanding of. After that 6 month experience, I refuse to raise my kids in a suburban setting. I feel like I’m lucky to have made it out of small town without being a ignorant fool; I want my children to have the opportunity to see many walks of life, and feel blessed for what they have (or do not have).

  20. My love and I are looking at homes in up and coming areas of Atlanta–and have established a set of standards to judge the street that we are looking at. Some of them include:

    1. If it’s a neighborhood in renovation, are the two houses on either side of the home renovated? Are they occupied?
    2. Of the homes on the street, how many are currently occupied? Are there people on the porches, and walking around the neighborhood?
    3. If you drive down the street at night, are the streetlights lit?

    I grew up in the city–and so I ultimately feel like crime is a thing that happens when people are living close together. That said, neighborhoods vary street-to-street and block-to-block, and that is worth considering. Pick strategic paths to walk in your neighborhood, and stay alert. We’ve been paying all sorts of money for a “secure” condo in an expensive, revamped area, and there have been more break-ins (and even a carjacking!) than I ever experienced in the up and coming neighborhood of my childhood. Looking at the current market in our city, we just decided it would be crazy *NOT* to look at the up and coming neighborhoods–we’re talking 1920’s bungalows selling for the cheapest prices in well over a decade.

  21. I could almost swear you live in my town, lol. When my FH and I decided to purchased a renovated home in an up and coming neighborhood (Chattanooga TN), his mom freaked out. She pretty much though burglury and rape were daily occurances. That wasn’t the case at all. Sure there’s a little crime, but we’ve never had any problems and most of our neighbors are super friendly. We don’t have children yet, but 2 friends that live in the neighborhood do, and they have no complaints.
    It sounds like the area you’re looking at is a great neighborhood, but it can’t hurt to ask others living or working in the area for their opinion. No one can give you a more accurate picture than someone with personal experience:) And remember, an up and coming neighborhood is just that: you’re probably seeing it at its worst. Just 2 years after moving onto our ‘skeezy’ street dramatic improvements have been made to surrounding properties, crime dropped, and new restaurants are starting to pop up everywhere. It’s awesome watching a new community develop:)

  22. Coming from a town of 3,500 people, I moved to Minneapolis for college, and lived in a dorm very near a “sketchy” area my freshman year, that some of my suburban neighbors told me to avoid completely at night and avoid being in alone during the day (for fellow Minneapolitans reading this, it’s Cedar-Riverside). That year, I did have one bad experience in the area, being harassed by a group of stoned men while I was with my roommate, her brother, and her mom, during the day. The thing is, though, we were a bit nervous to be there, and probably looked like victims (I believe someone else mentioned “don’t look like a victim” in another comment). After that year, I moved to a much lower-density, “safer” neighborhood, which was not well-lit at night, and constantly had crime reports of muggings and rapes. Oh yeah, and it was BORING AS HELL. Two years later, I’m back in the heart of the “sketchy” area, rather than in a college dorm, and LOVE IT. It was only after moving that I discovered some great coffeeshops, theatres, and bars in the area, which helped me get comfortable with being there (it’s not like there was anything to do in the neighborhood I was in). It turns out that “sketchy” was code for “almost entirely filled with new Somali immigrants,” and the crime rates are actually pretty comparable to other neighborhoods. Also, I feel safer knowing that, in such a high density area, if something happens, someone will likely see it and either help out or report it. I feel very comfortable walking a block or two on the very well-lit, populated streets at night, and bike anywhere farther than that. You mentioned you were near a greenway, and biking is actually a great way to feel safer at night–you’re much faster than if you’re walking, and you don’t have the vulnerable getting-in-the-car period of time (and nobody will be in your backseat). To echo what other people have been saying, take some time to hang out in the neighborhood to see if you get comfortable, check the crime stats, walk with confidence (or bike!), and enjoy the diversity and activity of your potential new urban neighborhood.

  23. Greetings,
    I too live in a low-income neighborhood but have not had any issues. My child and I have never had any troubles playing in our own yard or taking walks during the day. It might be note worthy to add that I have two large well trained dogs that the neighbors know me by, a fenced yard, and my husband can be rather intimidating looking. I have to pick up a lot a trash from our yard and there is the occasional drunk yelling outside but all in all it’s been fine.

  24. Firstly! Awesome <3's to you!

    We bought our first home in a city that's in a bouncing game 2 years ago. While there's a huge effort to turn the city around, there's still plenty of rough patches. However, my husband is a city man, and we found the most amazing Arts and Crafts bungalow for a very affordable price.

    The neighbors have made ALL the difference though.

    Our block is full of like minded individuals. Young families, working professionals, etc. Since moving here, a neighborhood watch has picked up alot of momentum, and we are proud to be part of it. Originally, it was just the two of us, but we're now pregnant with our second child, and still happy to be here.

    My parents, however, are terrified of our neighborhood. They acknowledge we have great neighbors, but there have been muggings, drunks, and a few break ins (As the blocks near us are much more lower income, and we get many teens coming through, trying to impress their friends with petty theft, etc.)

    My suggestion is go to the neighborhood on an early summer morning. See who's on the porches, talk to prospective neighbors. If there are like minded individuals, it's absolutely worth it.

  25. I live in East Palo Alto, CA in ’92 it was the murder capital of the world (or something like that). It has a bad history, and people still shy away. We bought our home three years ago, just before our daughter was born. It is THE BEST!!! Our neighbors are great. We have some land! We can have chickens and roosters, and we own stock in the water company, so our water is always the same price. Sure, there are some idiots, but they know we are good people and they leave us alone. We’ve gotten involved in the community through gardening and we love it here. We’ve only had some cultural confusion with some of our Mexican and Tongan neighbors. It is a learning experience and I am seriously glad we are raising our now two girls here!

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