By John Hubbuch
I have lived in Oak Park since 1976 and to be honest, I have never really thought about crime here very much.
My son Chris lives in Oak Park but is looking at a house in Western Springs. At first I was disappointed because I like having him, Sarah, Lily and Ava nearby, but then I talked to parents with kids in New Zealand, Montana and California. Chris and I have had a number of conversations in which I have lobbied for Oak Park against Western Springs. One of Chris' understandable concerns is the safety and security of his family. To be sure, everyone is interested in a safe place to live. He directed me to a website: city-data.com. The crime statistics for Oak Park and Western Springs are eye-opening, to say the least.
Oak Park has 53,000 people, and Western Springs is much smaller — only 13,000. In 2009, Oak Park had only one murder and one rape, and Western Springs had none. Pretty safe in both towns. However, pro-rated per 100,000 people (which the website does for comparison purposes), Oak Park had 275 robberies; Western Springs 8 (one total robbery for all of 2009). Oak Park had 69 assaults; Western Springs, a hard-to-believe zero. Oak Park had 1,082 burglaries; Western Springs, 173. And Oak Park had 2,484 thefts; and Western Springs had 613. (As noted, all of these numbers are per 100,000 people.) I was surprised how dramatic these differences were.
Now to be sure, Oak Park's numbers are fairly close to the national averages, and there are lots of places in the Chicago area that aren't nearly as safe as Oak Park. And crime is much less than when we moved here in 1976. On the other hand, Western Springs would appear to be a much safer place than Oak Park.
So there are the objective crime stats. Then there is the subjective perception of crime, which is probably at least as important. As noted, I've lived in Oak Park for 35 years and the only crime I experienced was the time someone stole a bike from my garage — but I had left the garage door open. I always assume the bad stuff happens at 2 a.m. on Austin Boulevard. I go to bed at 9 and don't live there. I moved here from Hyde Park, where the crime was worse. I'll bet crime rates are higher in Lincoln Park, River North, West Loop and South Loop than they are here. On the other hand, there are people who don't feel safe riding the Blue Line — in rush hour! Perception may not be everything, but it's important.
Marsha and I argue over whether it's safe to take Lily to Columbus Park to feed the ducks in the lagoons. I frequently run there, so I know the scariest things in the park are a couple of old black guys armed with fishing poles. I don't see any problem, but Marsha kind of does, so we find other places to feed the ducks.
Just where do you draw the crime line? On the one hand, you don't want to needlessly endanger yourself and your loved ones by ignoring a certain reality. Yet on the other, you don't want to give in to a dark fear that will diminish you and the community you love.
There are hard choices in life.