Read Eric's bio and previous columns
November 26, 2007
Selling the Names of
Chicago’s Landmarks? Another Money-Making Scam
“When deep space
exploration ramps up, it’ll be the corporations that name everything.
The IBM Stellar Sphere, the Microsoft Galaxy, Planet Starbucks.” – from
the movie, “Fight Club”
We might not have to
wait on deep space exploration. We maybe have until just next year.
That’s when a consultant hired by the mayor of Chicago is expected to
report on the feasibility of selling the naming rights of cash-strapped
Chicago landmarks for corporate sponsorship.
After that, don’t be
surprised if you can spend the afternoon at Old Navy Pier.
Well, perhaps not, at
least for the short term. The mayor’s office has said that it plans to
maintain the integrity of the city’s great landmarks.
To say that we should be
concerned about the piecing off and sale of the public sphere to
private, corporate interests is almost a banality. It’s hard to imagine
the person who would disagree with that. Corporations didn’t create
civic landmarks. Civic landmarks were made what they are by the people
who visited them. Slapping a corporate logo on one cheapens it, cheapens
the city in which it exists, cheapens us all as a people by completing
the march to the bottom of the barrel when it comes to placing some
things off limits the power of money.
Of course the mayor’s
office says that the city’s most cherished landmarks will be protected,
but in doing so, they used some very curious phrasing. They referenced
the city’s “brand integrity.” Most anyone who’s gone through a
bankruptcy involving an old, cherished brand might wince at this. The
old, cherished brand, at the end of the day is just another asset, and
if a company is broken up, someone can buy the brand integrity.
In short, the mayor’s
pronouncement that things like Navy Pier or Grant Park are off limits
due to brand integrity just means that perhaps in the short term, the
city isn’t that strapped for cash. Or that its leaders are
concerned about a potential damage to the influx of tourism dollars
brought on by crass and shameless commercialization.
The notion isn’t
anything new. Cities have been selling sponsorships to events and
locations for years, and gone are the days when you might see the
Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions play football at either Three
Rivers Stadium or the Pontiac Silverdome. Today, the game takes place at
a location with either Heinz or Ford affixed to the field.
But, it isn’t just
specific landmarks co-opted by moneyed interests. The design of malls
these days have drifted away from the old, enclosed design to a
collection of buildings surrounding a parking lot. The more cannily
built ones have false upstairs apartments built into the facade,
complete with lighting to make it look like someone’s there. The sense
of community is manufactured, a tool by which developers hope to get
The effect is to make it
look like a city’s downtown, and represents an investment in something
new and false while true downtown areas, owned by the public and steeped
in local traditions, continue to deteriorate. These false downtowns come
complete with names like “Commons” or “Town Center”, further co-opting
the sense of community for the sake of turning a buck. Developers who
built one of these things in the city of Lansing, Michigan, even asked
for downtown development dollars.
Of course, the
apartments are fake and the stores are the same that you can find in any
similar mall, which exposes the entire thing as a sham.
We should learn a lesson
from this – associating civic landmarks with corporate interests might
help cover some bills, but in the end turns whatever it touches into
just another scam for turning a buck.
North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.
Click here to talk to our writers and
editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.
To e-mail feedback
about this column,
click here. If you enjoy this writer's
work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry
This is column #
Request permission to publish here.