New Book Details the Resurgence of Cities
By Robert Schroeder
When National Louis University's Dr. Costas Spirou wandered Chicago's Loop on weeknights two decades ago, he found himself enveloped by commuters high-tailing out of town.
Twenty years later, Spirou says the crowds are sticking around after hours—and flocking to the city on weekends, too. That cultural change inspired Spirou to write Urban Tourism and Urban Change: Cities in a Global Economy, a sociological and cultural analysis of the world's changing cities.
Change is noticeable to the naked eye in the Windy City. From Millennium Park to the recently built United Center, U.S. Cellular Field, and revamped Soldier Field, to the revitalized Navy Pier and the expanded McCormick Place, Chicago has geared itself to accommodate the booming tourism industry. The city's 2016 Olympic bid is a microcosm of the city's tourist focus.
"After World War II, cities were experiencing a tremendous amount of decline because of suburbanization," Spirou said. "As we moved into the 70s, 80s and 90s, cities were looking for alternatives to revitalize themselves, and my argument in the book is that cities are using tourism and culture as a way to revive themselves."
Spirou says the concept of globalization is regarded by urban planners not just in flows of capital but in flows of population. Cities have expanded their definition of tourism beyond vacationers to include study abroad students, convention attendees, and businessmen and women attending corporate conferences. Expansion of visitors has built a new economy, from contributions to sales taxes to increased spending in hotels and restaurants and event attendance.
To cater to an influx of visitors and a rise in world travelers, Spirou says cities are focusing on beautification and investing in infrastructure like parks, recreation and space for festivals. Creating tourism space and maintaining existing infrastructure, such as Chicago's two baseball teams, are critical to managing external perception of a city.
Spirou's book details an unintended consequence of tourism infrastructure development: the rise of downtown residential areas, as locals desire to partake in the leisure activities cities have to offer.
"It has helped to attract the creative class, young people who have the energy, commitment, resourcefulness and entrepreneurial spirit to contribute to economic growth," Spirou said. "Public officials are looking at that as a contribution to the future."
While downtown residential areas have grown, Chicago's population as a whole has fallen sharply. From 2000-2010, more than 200,000 residents moved away from the city. Nevertheless, Spirou identifies population growth in some of Chicago's most troubled neighborhoods, including the Garfield Park area west of the United Center, as signs that population declines are not irreversible.
Across the country, state and municipal budgets are under greater scrutiny to prove return on value. In 2010, Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts was criticized for requesting $200 million in state bonds for proposed renovations of Wrigley Field and surrounding property. Walking the line between investment and overspending, says Spirou, is a high-wire act.
"At times like this it is very difficult to see that argument being made," Spirou said. "It's tough even when times are better."
What will Chicago look like two decades from now? There will be no Olympic stadium or Olympic village, but as Spirou's analysis reveals, Chicago's downtown landscape figures to continue its evolution. What that evolution will look like, only time will tell. But expect the commuters may stick around to check it out.