Chicago: America’s Barcelona
I want to address an issue I am hearing a lot about. I believe this NATO conference can make a huge impact on Chicago’s tourism and development.
This is something I have studied for a long time. As an undergraduate at Northwestern, I wrote my political science honors thesis on mega-events. Admittedly, NATO is smaller but if anything this makes the cost-benefit analysis much more positive. Instead of building world class velodromes and mountain biking trails in ghettos and garbage dumps (the NYC2012 really proposed these), Chicago can get away with building zero infrastructure.
While security is not free, the security is necessary exactly because there will be over fifty of the most important people in the world all in one place, here. These leaders are not isolated individuals – their pictures from the summit will be showcased on the news back in their home countries. Assuming the Emanuel administration is good a schmoozing, they will at the same time show these leaders all the best of Chicago: the Art Institute, the skyscrappers, and of course the Lake. The result is clear. When leaders return home, they will note their surprise at how wonderful Chicago is to all their friends and businessmen.
This would not be the first time a city with little international presence has made a big splash through a mega-event. Barcelona was a no name second city of Spain. It was overshadowed by Paris, Rome, and domestically by Madrid. Yet by hosting the Olympics, it overnight became an international destination on the maps of global tourists. Its hard to imagine what if any following a non-Olympic Barcelona would have had outside of strong soccer fans. Business is harder to quantify, but having a recognized name cannot hurt.
On the other hand, mega-events do not necessarily lead to large positive gains. Pittsburgh hosted a G8 Summit a few years ago. As far I am aware this has not led to large growth in tourism or business.
So here is the question I pose to you: Are we a Barcelona or a Pittsburgh of the world?
Judging by the name of my blog, you can be sure what my answer will be to the question. Even more importantly, a recently WGN Poll found that nearly 60% of Chicagoans agree hosting this summit will improve our international standing. We have nothing to lose from this summit but our negative image, or in many countries our lack of an image entirely. Let the images of Capone and Convention ’68 fade behind images of art, culture, business, and trade next to the Lake.
Barring a large negative event, Chicago will come out a big winner in the long-term.
In other NATO news…
Led by the Stanley Foundation, a recent conference addressed a wide-range of topics associated with international policy: the upcoming Chicago NATO Summit, G-8 conferences, and European Debt Crisis. The conference received additional support from the Buffett Center of Northwestern and the Global Summitry Project at the University of Toronto.
It was a great conference, and I am happy to report those who were unavailable can now watch all the highlights as the Foundation has made available a number of videos. My personal favorites include this one on the G8’s efforts against WMDs and this one on the future of NATO (I love Professor Ahmet Kasim Han’s maps of the world – from Atlantic Centric to Pacific Centric – notice how Europe ends up at the edges)
Also take a look at the Stanley Foundation’s just released a presummit policy memo! It truly addresses the complexities of summits and why so many social scientists study the phenomenon.