Chicago, described by President Trump and others as a hellish, dystopian crime scene akin to a “war-torn nation” and “worse than Afghanistan” is about to shatter all of its tourism records, including the one it set last year.

An abundance of creative energy is driving this renaissance: The growing skyline is getting filled with increasingly stylish hotels, and a new Riverwalk that resembles New York’s High Line is daring locals to stay outside well past summer’s end. Its long-famous museums are gaining scrappy rivals, and two gleaming new theaters are reminding Americans of the city’s prowess on-stage.

Add in the food scene—Bon Appetit named Chicago the best restaurant city of the year—and the only art-and-architecture biennial in the United States, which kicked off its second iteration last week, and it’s easy to forget that this burgeoning hub of 2.7 million is also making headlines for its homicide rates.

In the middle of it all is Rahm Emanuel, who set his sights beyond the typical issues of economics and education when he became mayor of Chicago in 2011. The year before he started, tourism in the Windy City had notched 39 million visitors. By 2020, he said at the time, he wanted 50 million.

It was an ambitious goal, but by 2016, the city cleared a record 54 million arrivals—and it’s on track to exceed that number again in 2017. (By contrast, New York hosted nearly 62 million tourists in 2016.)

“We hit it within three years,” Emanuel told Bloomberg. “So I said OK, let’s go to 55 million by 2020!”

A Tale of Two Cities
Chicago’s tourism success has two sides. Without leaving the city’s compact downtown bubble, visitors to the city can stroll along the Riverwalk, Chicago’s ambitious waterfront-turned-pedestrian-plaza which opened last fall; hear jazz concerts on the lawn at the Museum of Contemporary Architecture, which culminated an expansion this summer; or drop $175 for a 10-course tasting menu at one of the country’s most daring restaurants, Alinea.

These visitors will rarely venture to the city’s south or west sides, where locals are keenly aware that the city has already logged 500 homicides this year. (In 2016, Chicago’s homicide rate trailed cities such as St. Louis, Baltimore, and Detroit when measured on a per-capita basis.)

Though Chicago’s neighborhoods remain highly segregated—a reality in many major U.S. cities—the city’s tourism push has had ripple effects transforming the city end-to-end. There are many ways to slice the figures, but according to Choose Chicago, roughly 4,600 tourism jobs were added in 2016, raising the industry total to upward of 145,000 positions; in the same period, $900 million in tourism-related tax revenues were injected into the local economy.

A major public art initiative has brought free performances to every park in the city. Emanuel is spending $4 million this year to add 120 new sculpture works by prominent and up-and-coming local artists. A major effort to spruce up public transportation systems has also installed public artworks in many of Chicago’s CTA stations, turning them into bona fide gallery spaces for the masses.

First « 1 2 3 4 » Next