The NATO Effect

I do know it’s a few weeks after the fact, but I figured everyone should settle down before we talked about it again.  Preceding the event, most citizens seemed generally terrified, yet the whole time I couldn’t help but feel a little bit excited. Some of this city’s greatest organizations like the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau/Choose Chicago, The Greater North Michigan Ave. Association (which I am a part of) have been working along with many others to make Chicago appealing not only to Americans but on a global spectrum.

When I studied abroad in Europe in 2007-08, most people’s reaction to me saying I was from Chicago was Al Capone!  I remember thinking Really? Not even Oprah?  Before, Chicago hadn’t made itself quite as known for modern-day excitement.  Now we’re getting there with features in major films like Transformers and having the President of the United States call this his home town and then deciding to hold the NATO summit here.

What differentiates NATO from things like cinema and entertainment is that world leaders set a precedent of another quality.  When the president or prime minister says “that was an excellent trip,” it’s more than just a great scene — it’s an experience from someone you know has experienced a lot.  That’s  not to say that people have thought badly about Chicago, it’s simply that they didn’t think about it.  Now we’ve held our ground and shown we can take on large protests and function without terrorism of any kind.  While scary for some, I think this was actually a big move forward.  My proof of this?  The day after NATO ended I was by the lake when a lady asked me to take her picture, shopping bags in hand.  She was a Canadian who now worked out of Brussels with NATO.  “I never realized how beautiful Chicago was!  I LOVE your city!”  She told me how surprised she was that it was so clean and the people so friendly.  She just never knew.  And while that may not be as valid as a bunch of stats, seeing a person who seemed so happy and awe-struck made a bigger point to me.  Equally important, she worked in a position where she can manage events and may choose to send high-level dignitaries back.  While many were very disappointed that the work The City of Chicago did to prepare for the Olympic bid fell through so quickly, it clearly wasn’t a waste.  The improvements have made an impression.  And a good one at that!

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