Further Adventures of the Welfare Queens

Tourist centers versus places people can live: 

Millennium Park is a triumph of public relations.

For example, in interviews with civic leaders a few years ago, it wasn't hard to discern the script when virtually each one repeated the notion that once finished Millennium Park would be the new postcard picture of Chicago. And that no matter what the final bill, the cost would be worth it. When I heard my former editor atChicago magazine repeat that last one one day, I knew the meme had set in.

But is it true? Of course not. At what point, I would ask the citizenry, would it not have been worth it? At $750 million? At a billion?

Let's say you find the current cost of $475 million "worth it." But you would balk at a cool billion.

Well, consider that we're not done paying for Millennium Park yet. Those parking garages aren't bringing in the expected revenue, andthe park is operating at a deficit. When all is said and done, a billion dollars may not be out of sight.

Will that be worth it?

Did we at some point decide that the mayor could have a blank check for a downtown park, but not for schools, health care, affordable housing, or a larger, better police force? Or to 
maintain the parks we have?

Even the private funding that has gone into Millennium Park comes from somewhere – your employer, perhaps.

What if we put that money and more towards building the greatest schools the planet has ever seen? Couldn't those be the postcards of a new Chicago?

I like Millennium Park fine, but we could have had 60  fantastic neighborhood parks for that money, and they would have gotten as much use. I know the people who live in neighborhoods that need parks don't take pictures for postcards. 

The argument, I suppose, is that the tourists spend the money and then the money goes to the schools and the parks everywhere and whatnot, but it never seems to be the case. The tourists spend the money which goes to more things for the tourists to spend money on.


4 thoughts on “Further Adventures of the Welfare Queens

  1. Other than that I’ve been a tourist in Chicago several times, I don’t have a stake in this. Even then, I don’t see it. But I never understood why the buildings for the world’s fair / Columbian Expo were built strictly for the expo with the intent of burning them down after the expo.
    I like the large airy feel of the area – almost as it if it breaking out of the urban jungle. Other than that, there is so much more to do within a few blocks walk. Multiple art museums, aquarium, never made it to the pier or zoo. What is there at Millenium Park that would make me want to go and tarry there / that would bring me to the city / etc. ? So I don’t see it pulling in more tourist dollars. Looking on their web page they talk about family activities, but I don’t see where it would support families.
    Being in the middle of all the museums, etc. it seems like they may have been better to give the older museums and their collections a face lift.
    Despite Chicago having a great mass transit to the area, it just doesn’t fit human nature for the locals to hop on the train and come downtown on a frequent basis. As you imply, families are much more likely to stay local and only go downtown rarely. And again, what are they gonna do at Millenium Park that they couldn’t have done elsewhere in the long belt of parks and Museums on the lake ? Like you say, local parks would get better patronage.

  2. I enjoyed Millennium Park, and I enjoyed The Bean when I was in Chicago last year. I didn’t spend any money in the park while I was there. Great for me, not so good for the city I suppose.

  3. maplestreet, based on what I’ve read about the Columbian Exposition, constructing the buildings in a temporary way was due to a couple of factors. First, money. The specifications for floor space and building size were such that structures meant to remain permanent of those sizes would have been much more expensive. Since Worlds Fairs are meant to make a profit, there are limits to how much can be spent. Second, time. The Chicago Worlds Fair came together so quickly that there just wasn’t time to build everything properly. Shortcuts were taken intentionally–including using flammable cladding material–to make construction go much faster.
    Finally, burning the place down wasn’t ever the official plan, if I understand things correctly. It may have been discussed, but by the time the Fair ended there was talk of making at least some of the structures more permanent. And in fact, one was renovated into a permanent structure, now known as the Museum of Science and Industry.

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