Aaron Cowan

 

On his book A Nice Place to Visit: Tourism and Urban Revitalization in the Postwar Rustbelt

Cover Interview of May 10, 2017

Lastly

Tourism is one of the largest and fastest-growing industries in the world, and it has an important role to play in the postindustrial American city. Cities should be entertaining and attractive places to visit. Tourism is obviously a major industry that cities cannot afford to neglect entirely. The rise of the tourist economy created a new economic function for downtowns, and did bring a new kind of vitality to American cities. The historical narrative in A Nice Place to Visit, however, suggests that an overzealous dedication to enhancing this role at the expense of the greater urban community leads to discord, resentment, and the remaking of central cities to serve the interests and tastes of outsiders rather than locals.

Tourism continues to be an attractive lure to cities that see it as a panacea for economic ills. Cities continue to offer tax abatements and millions in public subsidy to casino developers and professional sports franchises, even as budgets for public schools and municipal services are cut to the bone.

I would like to believe that the stories in my book would give governmental and business leaders pause; not to reject tourism altogether, but to ask questions like: How can we develop a successful urban tourist economy that doesn’t alienate a city’s residents? How do we make sure the benefits of tourist development are equitable and that tourism truly contributes to the greater good of a community, not just hotel chains or global corporations?

I would hope that those with the power to shape the urban political economy would thoughtfully consider ways to insure that our cities are both “nice places to visit” and also good, just communities, in which to live.