The Boystown Parking Ban Raises Issues of Race and Class

Halted Street in Boystown. Image: Google Street View
Halted Street in Boystown. Image: Google Street View

This spring will mark the second year of an expanded weekend parking ban on a half-mile stretch of Halsted Street between Belmont and Addison in Boystown. The parking restrictions were originally piloted in 2011 on the short segment of Halsted from Belmont to Buckingham Place, with parking banned between midnight and 5 a.m. Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from spring through early fall.

Last August the restrictions were extended to Addison and expanded to start at 11 a.m. At the time, Chris Jessup, an assistant to 44th Ward alderman Tom Tunney, told the website that the parking program was implemented in partnership with the 19th Chicago Police District, the Northalsted Business Alliance and community members. “The goals of this police order pilot program are to improve vehicular and pedestrian safety on Halsted and to discourage public drinking and loitering in and around parked vehicles,” he said, referring to gatherings residents have dubbed “car parties.” Tunny’s office did not respond to requests for a comment for this article.

The website CWB Chicago, which covers crime in Lakeview, reported in August that the restrictions were implemented after neighbors, many of them residents of a condominiums near Belmont and Halsted, complained about “late night music blasting from parked cars, dancing on sidewalks, and drug dealing.” (It’s interesting that dancing on the sidewalk in a buzzing nightlife district is considered a bad thing.)

“Essentially, the problem is people loitering or ‘hanging out’ without any reasonable purpose,” local police commander Marc Buslik said, according to CWB. “[They’re not] patronizing the businesses or visiting residents.”

Last week Crain’s Greg Hinz, who lives in the area, reported that Tunney has said another reason for the ban is to clear up curbside space so that ride-hailing drivers can pick up and drop off passengers without double parking, which stops traffic on the two-lane street.

While the ban is reportedly popular with local residents, and the parking restrictions don’t seem to negatively affect businesses, some of the explanations for the policy raise class and race issues. Are the restrictions simply an effort to prevent illegal behavior (and traffic jams), or is there also a question of exactly who is welcome to hang out on Halsted?

While crime has grabbed headlines in Boystown in recent years, statistics suggest there’s a disconnect between residents’ perceptions of its prevalence and the reality. According to Chicago Tribune data, Lakeview is among the city’s safest neighborhoods, on par with predominantly residential ones on the far Northwest Side, such as Jefferson Park and Edison Park. This is in spite of Lakeview being home to two of the city’s rowdiest nightlife areas—Boystown and nearby Wrigleyville.

Wrigleyville is a bigger crime hotspot than the parking ban area. Image: Miachael Podgers / Lakeview Chamber of Commerce
Wrigleyville is a bigger crime hotspot than the parking ban area. Image: Michael Podgers

When you map crime incidents in Lakeview, the parking ban strip does have a higher density of illegal activity than some other parts of the neighborhood, and the Belmont/Clark/Halsted area is a hotspot. But it pales in comparison to the density of crime around Wrigley Field and the surrounding Wrigleyville bar district. While Wrigleyville’s sports bars attract a predominantly straight, white, middle-class clientele, Chicago’s gay village attracts a much more diverse crowd, because it functions as a Mecca for LGBTQ people from all over the city and suburbs regardless of race and class.

It’s notable that the idea that Boystown has a crime problem picked up speed not long after the Center on Halsted community center, which offers counseling services, STD testing, after-school drop-in programs, and other services, opened in 2007. This landmark further attracted LGBTQ people seeking resources tailored to their needs, as well as a safe, judgment-free place to hang out and be themselves. This includes many youth, people of color, and lower-income individuals who don’t fit the mold of the stereotypical white, more affluent Boystown bar patron.

Sadly, it is their presence that may be behind the perception that crime is on the rise and the streets are becoming more dangerous. This issue came to a head in 2011 when LGTBQ youth of color held protests asserting that they were being scapegoated for crime and racially profiled when they visited the area.

Of course, just because some residents believe that there’s a crime problem doesn’t mean that a neighborhood is actually less safe than other parts of town. In his book “Boystown,” sociologist Jason Orne examines the perception and reality of crime in the area and points to studies that show an increase in the presence of people of color in a community often correlates with residents sensing crime has gone up, even when it stays constant or drops. This is the case in Boystown. Indeed, Lakeview has seen an overall decline in crime incidents in recent years.

Crime has generally fallen in Lakeview in the past decade. Graph: Michael Podgers / Lakeview Chamber of Commerce
Crime has generally fallen in Lakeview in the past decade. Graph: Michael Podgers

Normally a livable streets advocate like myself would applaud a parking ban that makes it easier for people to access a popular nightlife district without driving there. But the Boystown restrictions are troubling because they seem to have the intention of discouraging people from spending time a neighborhood that’s supposed to be a haven for them, simply because they don’t have the money to buy drinks in nightclubs or know people who live in pricey condos.

The ban is troubling because it reeks of thinly veiled racism and classism towards Black, Brown, and lower-income LGTBQ people who want to enjoy themselves in a queer-friendly neighborhood, just like other Halsted Street visitors. This policy restricts access to public space under the pretense that “hanging out” and dancing on the sidewalk by people who can’t afford cover charges and cocktails is inherently problematic, while drinking and dancing in clubs by people with thicker wallets is not.

As it stands, the ban makes it easier for police to target visitors of color or lower incomes, which makes Boystown less welcoming to people who don’t have the same economic or social support systems as wealthier denizens. If the restrictions are truly needed, a better approach would be to pair this strategy with public space initiatives like wider sidewalks, seating areas, pocket parks, and affordable food trucks. That would invite people of all backgrounds and income levels to come spend time and be themselves in the gay village.

Correction 2/6/18 5:45 PM: This post previously incorrectly stated that there is no nighttime parking ban in Wrigleyville. There actually is a parking ban on Clark Street near Wrigley Field on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. I apologize for the oversight. — John Greenfield, editor

  • planetshwoop

    Great piece. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Tooscrapps

    What is the author’s position about employees from the COH failing to show up for court appearance when their employees or patrons are assaulted?

  • Judd

    I’m a cyclist and I live on Addison. It’s very dangerous biking through Halsted with too many Uber cars randomly pulling over to pick up too many drunks. Add in the clueless people hunting for parking and you have a mess. I’m all for the ban because the Uber cars are doing more good than harm, and they’re not going away. This is not about car parties for me — it’s about traffic safety.

    That said, I’ve had two friends mugged in the last couple years. Don’t tell me Boystown is nice and safe. It isn’t.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Seems like the problem is, in large part, an issue of noise. People can and do do lots of things indoors that would be a nuisance to others if they did them outdoors — including cranking up dance, techno, hip-hop (or classical or jazz or any genre of) music at ear-splitting volumes. All of which I love — though I also love just as much being a good citizen and not infringing on, but rather respecting, other citizens in the vicinity of my activities and their rights, desires, feelings, and leisure activities. Moreover, though I respect and honor the right to assembly and fully dig nightlively neighborhoods, the size of gatherings in the public ROW is controlled by laws and regulations for a reason, I suppose. (You know, the old “heath, safety, public welfare” of planning and zoning.) Laws and regulations must of course be fairly and uniformly conceived and enforced or applied, without regard to skin color, the amount of money in one’s wallet, or other superficial markers of identity. The symbol of the gay (and the LGBTQ) community is the “rainbow,” after all. One solution might be to establish a not-for-profit cooperative dance club where drinks are sold at cost … But would it be popular? Designing public space in dense, diverse urban environments, which can be used on a daily basis for loud music ain’t easy — sound-proof public realm?

  • Jacob Wilson

    Not every street exists at every time to serve your travel habits exclusively. Especially in a nightlife district like most of Lakeview where streets have other purposes than simply moving traffic, bicycle or automobile as quickly as possible. Take (all withing 3-4 blocks) lakefront path, Broadway, Sheffield or Racine instead on weekend nights.

    Your second point perfectly illustrates the point John is making in the article about perceived crime vs actual facts. Your anecdotes are just utterly useless and only fuel the fires of white middle class hysteria.

  • Not impressed

    I’m not sure it’s about race or class as much as it’s about not wanting idle riff-raff, and the nuisances that accompany them, around. For some background: I’m 35, black and gay, and my first post-collegiate apartment was at Briar and Orchard, where I lived from 2005-2011. What was most annoying as a resident, irrespective of skin color, was the loitering, the loud music, the yelling and fighting, the public urination, drug use, and the commonplace usage of area USPS mailboxes, fire hydrants, newspaper dispensers, etc. as perches, posts, and/or soap boxes, and also, the robberies and assaults that occurred with cover provided by the aforementioned.

    I get it: it’s an entertainment district; cacophony and a transient population are part of the deal. But when one isn’t there to take in any of the entertainment that the area offers (bars, restaurants, theater, the moribund mini malls on Clark @ Diversey or Clark/Barry/Halsted; perhaps a gym, bathhouse, or both?) and the only measurable output and benefit to the neighborhood is what I’ve mentioned, then questioning their presence becomes easy to do.

    It’s unfortunate to state, but I’ve had long-time friends move from the immediate area, and others have preferred to frequent Andersonville and Rogers Park for a gay night out, venturing down to Boystown mainly for Pride, other daytime Summer events, or specific gay-oriented businesses in the area. Issues such as these are but one of the reasons why I purchased property further west in the neighborhood than in the direct area that I once so enjoyed.

  • Sixpackmikey

    I’ve read a lot of posts from this site and generally agree with them. This one is totally off base. Many streets in River North, including Kinzie and Hubbard, have the same parking restrictions. Without them, the cabs and Uber’s would clog up the street at closing time. Additionally, this was done to prevent a parked car from turning into a car bomb when the driver leaves. These parking restrictions are a great idea.

  • Jeff Friedman

    I support the parking ban on Halsted. I remember being a suburban teenager who often cruised around looking for places to hang out with other random teenagers. We’d try having “car parties” in cul-du-sacs and Burger King parking lots. Guess what? The police weren’t allowing my fellow white middle class cohorts and I to do this. So we almost always got chased away by the cops. It sucked at the time but looking back I’m positive it kept us from becoming a danger to ourselves and the local community in terms of fighting, drinking & driving, vandalism, etc.
    Allowing a crowd, especially one that’s made-up of underage adults and teens to congregate on the street without any specific purpose is going to descend into problems especially when it’s late at night and you’re in an area where people are drinking and doing drugs. People come to do drugs in Boystown and party at the bars and Steamworks. And they can buy drugs on the sidewalk. I’ve been approached by drug dealers that would make great solicitors for ‘Save the Whales’ because they come right up to you as you’re walking by.
    The author offers up suggestions that allow people to still congregate on the street but I think that would nothing but just encourage more of the same complaints.
    The hard truth of the matter is that it sucks when you are too young to get into bars or too broke, But this is motivation to study hard, get a job, save some money.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Chicago really needs more formal/supervised night life options for the teenaged crowd (we had Medusa’s when I was a teen, although we all certainly hung out on the street quite often as well). Curfews and ignoring them doesn’t work & this is what happens.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    An example of all-ages, ethnically diverse, LGBTQ-friendly “positive loitering” in Lakeview from a generation ago: youth hanging out at the Belmont/Clark “Punkin’ Donuts” parking lot (now a TOD with a Target.)

  • Carter O’Brien

    The heat map shows crime is a problem, with routine victims of serious crime, such as from this weekend:

    The bigger problem here is trying to compare Lake View as a whole to make an argument. Boystown and Wrigleyville are in a class of their own (and overlap).

    There is still a problem with how the official story here went from safety concerns to rise share ones, but ignoring the crime doesn’t help matters.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Good times indeed. The scene in the Granada was even wilder. But if we’re honest we should also remember that the street scene did bring the arrival of the Gangster Disciples for the lucrative drug turf, which they in fact still claim.

  • Jeff Friedman

    The punks at Dunkin Donuts were likely more tolerated because the neighborhood back then wasn’t quite as gentrified and the neighborhood wasn’t as family-friendly as it is now. But they still got hassled by the police. I’ve watched these videos and they even show a “punk” getting arrested.
    Medusa’s was actually one of the businesses that existed to give underage teens a place to have fun off the street. But ironically it brought more issues on the street.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    The article is by contributing writer Michael Podgers.

  • Josh Lapp

    Different city but I encountered a similar issue in the parking lot across the street from my Downtown Columbus apartment. It’s easy to by high and mighty about gentrification and classism etc until you’re woken up in the middle of the night by a car party/open air drug market right across the street from your apartment.

    If we want to allow for more public space (like a park, plaza, or square) that can have a public element to allow for fun and dancing that’s great. Something to that effect would be great and residents surrounding it would be aware of the noise level when they moved in.

    Making residents of an entire neighborhood suffer so a few folks can party on the street is ridiculous and I’m surprised that a blog that advocates for urban issues would promote this line of thinking, especially when we’re talking about people likely drink and doing drugs in a car and then driving.

  • Scott Williams

    There are many errors in fact and thought process in this piece not the least of which is the following statement:

    “Even though illegal activity is a bigger problem in Wrigleyville, that strip isn’t undergoing the same kind of late-night parking ban as Boystown. ”

    That is categorically false. Clark Street in Wrigleyville has been no-parking on Friday and Saturday nights for years. No need to visit. Just check the signs on Google Streetview.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Thanks for pointing this out; I’ve added a correction. What else are you arguing is factually incorrect?

  • Taluca Lake

    Unless the signs say, “No parking for [ethnic group]” how can it be racist?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    True, there are no signs that say “[ethnicity]-American parking only” that you can sometimes buy at gift shops in ethnic enclaves.


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