Hyde Park is something of an anomaly on the otherwise unpolished South Side. The University of Chicago, built in 1925 when this area was full of prestige and wealth, has made Hyde Park a bastion of culture in the middle of an environment known for crime, racial tension and impoverished families. Still surrounded by poorer areas, Hyde Park prides itself on being one of the few truly racially integrated neighborhoods in Chicago. Even though the areas around here have been improving, both the Chicago Police and the large University of Chicago Police Force patrol the neighborhood heavily. With that type of attention it’s no wonder Hyde Park has such a low crime rate.
The central neighborhood is the biggest draw, dominated by the rather awesome presence of the University of Chicago. During the 1950s, desegregation fueled extensive “white flight” from this area, transforming the racial make up of nearly the entire South Side from all white to all black. Here, however, the University of Chicago leveraged its financial power, political clout, and social engineering brainpower to muscle through the city’s first “urban renewal” project. This project, unflatteringly referred to by many neighborhood residents as “urban removal,” used eminent domain powers to demolish urban housing developments, to remove nightclubs and bars, and to make the neighborhood more suburban in character.
The project evicted many if not the majority of the neighborhood’s low-income residents, but the end result of the University-driven renewal project is that Hyde Park is to this day one of the nation’s most durable mixed-income, mixed-race neighborhoods, and is home to one of the only significant white communities for miles on the South Side. Hyde Park maintains its unique characteristics in its unique isolation from the rest of the city: no convenient L service, giant Washington Park to the west, frigid-in-the-winter Midway Plaisance to the south, and persistent redevelopment projects pushing to the north through Kenwood and to the south through Woodlawn.
Grand old high-rise apartment buildings line the lakefront, and away from the lake the neighborhood is filled with low-rise buildings many of which have become condos. While single-family homes in Hyde Park are expensive, townhouses and condos are on par with new construction in other middle-class neighborhoods in the city.