Do You Tell People Where You Live?

Most of the time, I think very little about how others perceive where I live.

Most of the time, I forget that my community may be called “the ghetto” or “the ‘hood.”

Most of the time, I forget that my neighborhood is purposefully by-passed out of fear.

But sometimes, I remember.

Someone will say something, and I'll be confused. And then I'm like, "Oh yeah. I forgot..."

Occasionally when we invite new friends to our home, I will worry that they will be frightened, that they won’t get out of their car or that they will never return after that first visit.

We were recently in this situation, and before they arrived, I asked Billy, “Do you think the neighborhood will make them nervous?”

Our friend spoke Spanish and Billy had spear-headed the coordination. He responded, “Oh, I told him we live in a Red Zone.”

RED ZONE???? What on earth does that mean?

“It means a neighborhood like ours. Why? What do you say? How do Americans say where we live?”

I started and stuttered. Well, sometimes we say “urban” or “downtown.” Of course, I told him, these are all sort of code words for describing the community. We don’t come right out and say it most of the time.

He was amused. And I was intrigued. Of course, I don’t know the cultural context for “Red Zone.” And language is always meaningful.

But I haven’t stopped thinking about that brief conversation and the ways I do or do not describe my neighborhood.

Around the same time, we sold some furniture on Craigslist. A little online stalking, and I ascertained that the buyer coming to our house was a young woman from a very different part of the city.

And I wondered… should I give her a head’s up? I wondered if she’d feel nervous or confident.

I did not say anything because… let’s be honest… that would be weird. (Kind of like some neighbors that moved in across the street from us and came over to introduce themselves, saying, “We’re not murderers or anything.” We laughed for days because that’s the creepiest introduction ever. On second thought, maybe I shouldn’t find this so funny…)

So I’m genuinely curious what you do? 

I know many of you have also chosen neighborhoods with extra boarded up houses or higher police presence with above-average crime rates. And we love these places we call home. We also know not everyone shares our affection. 

Do you give visitors a head’s up or do you let them discover your community on its own merit?

Photo credit: Brooke Novack


  1. I'm not sure we give much of a heads up, but we definitely feel the tension you describe. Our neighborhood is like this little, beautiful diverse island surround by more challenged neighborhoods. We find that our friends are at ease once they've made it to the island, but worry about the journey to the island. It's a strange thing because like you, we don't think about it in those terms any longer and the things that drive their fear no longer drive ours.

  2. Jessica Lamson1:17 PM

    I didn't realize that I lived in a "red zone" until learning about it in grad school. I never really felt unsafe, but apparently my neighborhood is known as being, shall we say, not so safe. I generally don't give it a second thought and the only thing I warn people about is that parking is hard and streets are narrow. If they know Philadelphia, they likely know about my neighborhood. And if they don't, I let them gather their own opinion rather than giving them pre-conceived notions. I remember being in a class for grad school and we actually went to a church in my neighborhood and talked to a lady who was from the neighborhood. I remember being frustrated that the class was being warned not to have their cell phones out because they might get stolen and to be careful with their purses and things. That's my neighborhood and I think it's unfair to paint a picture, even if it is based on your experience, and give people some kind of preconceived notion about it.

  3. meroe liranzo butler3:21 PM

    I always tell people that I live in the ghetto/hood without hesitation but I find that the people I tell arent surprised. That may have to do with my race (latina) as well as my husband's race (black) but to be quiet honest we cant afford to live anywhere else.

  4. I agree, Meore. Affordability is important! I appreciate your observations and your sharing.

  5. "Tension" is my go to word for most of life I think.

  6. Ha! Probably a good choice....

  7. Abby Norman11:16 AM

    This is hard. I teach in the suburbs and the things my kids say are SO IGNORANT! I LOVE my neighborhood. I don't tell people. They come and figure it out, and if they ask them if it is safe I tell them about our old lady neighborhood watch. Which is pretty much the best protection ever.

  8. this one is hard. i constantly feel caught in the space of wanting everyone to move here and experience how amazing it is, and then desperately trying to process some of the harder aspects (crime rates, safety issues, alcoholism and substance abuse, cockroaches and mice and BEDBUGS!) it is slowly normalizing, i think. I also have the added element of working with refugee populations, and they are constantly telling me they wouldn't want to live where i live :)

  9. Ha! Having watching neighbors can be a huge blessing! I haven't had anyone ask me about the safety in a long time, but I may hang onto that response! :) Thanks, Abby.

  10. Thanks for weighing in! I'm grateful for different perspectives. That's an interesting statement about the comments from refugee friends. My husband and I had some really interesting conversations about relocation and his immigrant expectations. Appreciate hearing from you!

  11. Chelsea11:52 PM

    I struggle with this too. I've noticed when we don't give a heads up, people make more inappropriate comments. At least if I explain ahead of time, I'm the one framing the conversation and setting the tone.

  12. Hi Chelsea! I like your words about "framing the conversation and setting the tone." That's so important! Thanks for sharing.

  13. I have been in similar situations, Jessica, where everyone is being highly cautioned... in my neighborhood. It's so uncomfortable and I feel a real tension between wanting to act in wisdom while also rejecting fear. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Really well said, Andrew. That word "tension" helps me name some of my emotion around the whole situation. Thanks!


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