Friday, January 06, 2006

FC3: What's so Chicago about Navy Pier?

Three Chicago Tribune investigative reporters reported today on how Navy Pier might be in for a major makeover. I'd like to focus on what a colossal waste of time and effort it was on the newspaper's part to bring us such hard-hitting news, but instead I have to wonder how Navy Pier can be "Illinois' top tourist attraction and a populist icon of Chicago's lakefront."

Chicago—and the entire state of Illinois for that matter—has so little to offer visitors that they flock to our own little theme park that looks exactly like every other city's touristy waterfront area. Expensive little souvenir shops, a McDonald's, an amusement-park ride or two, a public radio station, and a theater. No connection to the history of the city. No promotion of natural beauty. Nothing really unique. Nothing that shouts out, "Hey, this is what Chicago is all about!"

But what is Chicago about? If they put in a Second City theater instead of a Shakespeare theatre, that might be closer. But really, there's not much else. Chicago is home of great architecture, which is why Millennium Park is actually a cool addition to the city and, as a tourist trap, does bring visitors closer to what we're all about. Then again, with the McDonald's-sponsored Ferris wheel, perhaps Navy Pier does represent something that Chicago has in spades—political corruption, a city of millions controlled by a few crooked men.

Now, since I'm too hungover to think, I will turn to the great Mike Royko for an explanation of how Navy Pier truly is Chicago:

In a column entitled "What Clout Is and Isn't," which appeared in the Daily News on June 7, 1973, Mike Royko tackled a definition of clout (from Encyclopedia of Chicago:

[W]hat clout is in Chicago is political influence, as exercised through patronage, fixing, money, favors, and other traditional City Hall methods.

The easiest way to explain clout is through examples of the way it might be used in conversation.

“Nah, I don't need a building permit. —I got clout in City Hall."

“Hey, Charlie, I see you made foreman. Who's clouting for you?"

“Lady, just tell your kid not to spit on the floor during trial and he'll get probation. I talked to my clout and he talked to the judge."

“My tax bill this year is $1.50. Not bad for a three-flat, huh? I got clout in the assessor's office."

“Ever since my clout died, they've been making me work a full eight hours. I've never worked an eight-hour week before."

“My clout sent a letter to the mayor recommending me for a judgeship. Maybe I'll enroll in law school."

Get the idea? Clout is used to circumvent the law, not to enforce it. It is used to bend rules, not follow them.


Anonymous Mr. Molitor said...

Navy Pier is a not a bad place that offers a something for everyone. I don't see how placing upscale shops in it are going to attract people away from Michigan Ave. If the Children's Museum moves out I doubt kids will be as interested in going.

Hey this is Chicago, for awhile the top tourist site in Chicago was NikeTown beating even the museums.

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not a fan of Navy Pier either, but you'd be hard pressed to find a metropolitan city without something similar. In fact, I can't really name a large city that doesn't have something like it, can you? Unfortunately it's something that appeals to more people than less.

12:49 PM  
Blogger ap said...

true ... Chicago and every city and suburb now each resemble each other (except that we're fatter than most) ... want fries with that?

5:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do have fond memories of Girl Scout field trips to Navy Pier for International Food Fairs, Chicago Fest and the like. While admittedly a child of the suburbs, it was gritty and grimy; rife with the promise of catastrophic intestinal events and gave us a glimpse of what our Midwest white bread tables would never consider as suitable fair. It’s ironic that the more they work to makeover the Pier to something quintessentially Chicago, the more generic it becomes.

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the little Russian lady that sells carvings and cool nesting dolls that even come painted as Bears and Packers starting lines. And the celtic importer with the flat caps. And the Asian importer with all the jade Buddhas. Not outlandishly priced. Way cheaper than Michigan Ave. And there's no fun house for the kiddies on Michigan Ave. either, is there? With the Ben and Jerries to boot, I'm not so offended by the pier. H20

1:36 AM  
Anonymous jenska said...

Isn't it a service to the rest of us in a way? Navy Pier draws all the tourists away from other parts of the city that might get congested if people only knew about them.

4:19 PM  
Anonymous The Mom said...

I liked Navy Pier when it presented the International Festivals. All those booths of exotic foods, the loud music, foreign costumes ... it was really something to see. I was always a little afraid of being there, though. Real seedy if you walked out the wrong door.

9:33 PM  

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