Chicago: The bad stuff (a post on what I didn't like about the city)

Ruckus from our window
It's easy to be overwhelmed by the traffic, crime, and expense of any decent-sized city without realizing how much these big-city problems vary from a big-city to a really-big city, like Chicago. What I've disliked while living here are the same things people stereotypically dislike about big cities, but the reason I dislike them now and didn't in Philadelphia or Dallas is because of the high level they reach here. For example, if you're going on a trip, in a big city you plan to avoid rush hour, in Chicago you make plans for the few hours during the day when there might not be much highway traffic.

In case anyone doesn't read my blog regularly, I have greatly enjoyed each and every city we've lived in this year (Chicago included. It's a great city!). I do, however, write one post on each city about what I don't like.

Similar posts from previous cities:
Philadelphia: The rough and tumble
Dallas: The good, the bad, and the annoying 

On to Chicago...


Expensive: Our first night in Chicago, we ordered a pizza from the nearest place we could find and were surprised to pay $60 + tip when the pizza arrived. Come to find out, we had ordered from the legendary Giordano's, but still, the fact that a single Chicago pizza can cost this much reflects a lot.

Everything from street parking to beer is more expensive in Chicago, but it gets worse. Because demand for housing is so high,
things like apartments and reserved parking are not only expensive up-front, but management companies take advantage of the demand by charging huge application, move-in, and paperwork fees. We paid over $1,000 in non-refundable fees before we could even start paying for rent and parking and when our contract expired, our rent was increased by 33% because the landlord knew they could fill the apartment with someone else (and get more move-in fees).


Beer tasting
I don't mind a crowd, but when an event or attraction becomes so overcrowded that pedestrian gridlock results, it's too much. The picture to the left is a beer tasting that was so crowded, we were unable to get to the tables to taste the beer. We experienced this at other street festivals. Many of the major attractions in Chicago become so crowded that it takes away from the experience of being there. We avoided whole areas and streets because of the throngs of tourists.


Crime in Chicago is not on par with other big cities like LA and NY. Instead, Chicago crime rates are closer to economically depressed cities like Detroit, St Louis, Memphis, and Flint. A list of the top 25 most dangerous neighborhoods in the country has 4-5 Chicago neighborhoods listed

We feel safe living downtown and have only had a few bad experiences (our car was broken into and we walked by an upset woman with a police officer after an alley robbery), but other parts of the city are far worse. One night I was less than careful and realized I had typed the wrong destination into my gps. The neighborhood I ended up in was so desolate and unsafe (even in comparison to the worst parts of other cities we've lived in) that I looked it up when I got home and found that
I had been taking a self-guided tour of Fuller Park (Pictured in red on the picture to the right).

Homeless: I talked about street harassment in my post on Dallas. Our experience in Chicago has been much better. There are plenty of people camped out asking for money, but they generally ask in a non-intrusive way. They don't swarm you like in Dallas. I even had some fun conversation with people selling papers or trying to shine shoes.


Short Days: Days here seemed particularly short so I looked up some comparisons and found that Chicago has less daylight than the other cities we've lived in. It also gets dark earlier. It's because of the earth's tilt and Chicago's proximity to the EST zone. Right now for example, the sun sets by 4:30 in Chicago versus closer to 5:30 in Johnson City, TN and there are around 30 minutes less sunlight minutes. Because there are so many high-rises in Chicago, the window for sunlight is even less. I'm not going to visit Chicago and complain about the cold, it's a given. But I didn't realize that part of the reason it's so cold is because the sun goes down in the late afternoon.

Unpredictable Weather: On the same day of the huge storm last week that made national news, it was clear and sunny (and then rainy again). There are many cities that are known for rapidly changing weather, and I like it. I'd rather have rain that comes and goes than rain all day. If it's sunny out, I know it might not last, so I've learned to take advantage of the moment (which is good for more reasons than one).

People and General Environment

Gravel Dog Parks: Chicago has a lot of great dog parks, the best being in the north, but I've noticed that most of the parks, especially downtown, are entirely laid with gravel. I didn't see this anywhere else. I don't know if it's city code or what, but many dogs don't like the gravel as it hurts their paws. All over the city I see dogs off-leash playing outside of empty dog areas and I can only assume it's because of the gravel. Our dog balances on the brick pavers to keep from stepping on the gravel.

Taxi Drivers: Taxi drivers are usually some of the best drivers on the road. They may be more aggressive and rude than other drivers, but they generally know what they're doing and where they're going. Not the case in Chicago! I can't count the number of times we were stuck behind a taxi driver going slow in the left lane, failing to merge properly, or failing to make a right on red when there was a clearing. In big cities I'm used to being honked at by taxis riding my tail, not waiting for a taxi driver to get out of my way. Very odd...

Pedestrians: As mentioned, Chicago is a crowded place, so when people walk in an oblivious way it exacerbates the problem. Cities are full of tourists making last minute turns, holding up traffic, and stopping mid-step to stare or change direction, but even people who live in Chicago seem to have trouble with the basics (walk right, don't stop mid-step, don't block the way, make room for others). My theory is that mid-western manners prevent corrective feedback (they're overly polite and apologetic even when someone else is in the wrong).

Service: From past trips to Chicago, I expected the service to be terrible (restaurants, cashiers). I've found the exact opposite. Waiters and cashiers have been impressively accommodating and genuinely friendly, polite, and interesting. Sometimes too friendly. We had some friends in from out-of-state and a waitress picked up their baby for a lengthy restaurant tour (Uno's). The only time we had bad or questionable service was in high-traffic tourist places (Kingston Mines).

Motorcycle Noise/Lack of noise laws/enforcement: The first time I heard a really loud motorcycle downtown, I was impressed by how loud the sound was bouncing off the buildings. Everyone walking down the sidewalk jumped and stared. Later, around 2am, as I was kept awake, I wondered, "what type of peon enjoys making noise THAT loud in the middle of the night where thousands of people are sleeping?". Their bikes aren't necessarily any more powerful or faster than my quiet one. They intentionally alter the mufflers because they like to rattle windows 20 stories above the street. This type of thing make people hate motorcyclists. They need to be egged by the masses from balconies across the city.

That's it for the negatives! One more week in Chicago and we're on to ???? I'll post my final thoughts on Chicago and our evaluation of the city soon.

Favorite posts on Chicago:

Chicago: Never a dull moment!
Chicago: Towering views, lively fountains, beaches for dogs, and boat-shaped restaurants
Quick Quotes 38: Chicago
Chicago: Big Nachos, Big Pizza, Navy Pier, and the Blackhawks!