A Nice Place to Visit
Tourism and Urban Revitalization in the Postwar Rustbelt
Publication: Apr 16
Publication: Apr 16
Publication: Apr 16
6 x 9
An engaging, first-of-its-kind historical analysis of four Rustbelt cities’ efforts to remake themselves into tourist locales in the postindustrial eraRead Chapter 1 (pdf).
How did tourism gain a central role in the postwar American Rustbelt city? And how did tourism development reshape the meaning and function of these cities? These are the questions at the heart of Aaron Cowan’s groundbreaking book, A Nice Place to Visit. Cowan provides an insightful, comparative look at the historical development of Cincinnati, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore in the post–World War II period to show how urban tourism provided a potential solution to the economic woes of deindustrialization. A Nice Place to Visit chronicles the visions of urban leaders who planned hotels, convention centers, stadiums, and festival marketplaces to remake these cities as tourist destinations. Cowan also addresses the ever-present tensions between tourist development and the needs and demands of residents in urban communities. A Nice Place to Visit charts how these Rustbelt cities adapted to urban decline and struggled to meet the challenge of becoming an appealing place to visit, as well as good and just communities in which to live.
"A Nice Place to Visit is a balanced and sobering account of the political choices that gave rise to urban tourist economies. It is required reading for those who want to understand the profound dilemmas confronting American cities in the postindustrial age." —Andrew Hurley, Professor of History, University of Missouri–St. Louis, and author of Beyond Preservation: Using Public History to Revitalize Inner Cities
"Aaron Cowan brilliantly interrogates and recasts the place of tourism in the reinvention of postwar cities. While focusing on some of the hallmarks of tourist infrastructure, A Nice Place to Visit e xpertly advances the study of urban tourism well beyond tourist bubbles and devil's bargains. More than an examination of how civic leaders transformed four Rustbelt cities from grim to colorful in an effort to appeal to outsiders, A Nice Place to Visit shows how urban image making helped a generation of suburbanites reimagine the American city." —J. Mark Souther, Professor of History, Cleveland State University, and author of New Orleans on Parade: Tourism and the Transformation of the Crescent City
" Studies of tourism in American Rustbelt cities have long stood in the academic shadow of those in major metropolitan areas. Not anymore. Aaron Cowan's thoughtful analysis of postwar, entertainment-oriented redevelopment in Baltimore, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis reveals that urban revitalization has been alive—but not always well—in these oft-neglected cities. Yet Cowan's penetrating research suggests that in the matter of tourist development—despite its inability to resolve urban economic disparity and racial tension—we might cast our typically critical gaze toward a broader recognition of the myriad factors that have spurred regeneration. A Nice Place to Visit is a crucial addition to the urban history bookshelf." —J. Philip Gruen, Associate Professor, School of Design and Construction, Washington State University, and author of Manifest Destinations: Cities and Tourists in the Nineteenth-Century American West
"Cowan aptly demonstrates the conflicts inherent in promoting tourism while also meeting the needs of local residents, drawing needed attention to challenges still confronting many American cities beyond the rustbelt." —Missouri Historical Review
"Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and St. Louis all grew to prominence during the second industrial revolution, only to fall on hard times.... Each city thought revitalization would come through convention centers and business travelers and later from sports stadiums and leisure tourists....Cowan rightly concludes that real revitalization will attract conventioneers and suburbanites and offer educational and employment opportunities for economically disadvantaged city dwellers. Summing Up: Recommended." —Choice
"Cowan addresses tourism as an urban renewal policy in Rustbelt cities through case studies of the experience of four cities: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis.... (He) explains that they turned to tourism as an economic development strategy as they tried to cope with deindustrialization, population loss, and related economic and social problems." —Journal of Planning Literature
"In A Nice Place to Visit , Aaron Cowan invites us on a Viewmaster slide show (of) scenes from four cities—Cincinnati, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore. The impacts of tourism development in these four cities is not always picture postcard–perfect. These are, indeed, four cities that are nice places to visit but, depending on your social, economic, and racial or ethnic identity, may not always be great places to live.... A Nice Place to Visit is a nice book to read.... In fact, it would be a pleasant read for anyone interested in urban tourism. The book itself is a nice place to visit. Cowan's narrative is conversational and engaging as well as scholarly—no mean feat. It is also very timely, given the author’s attention to racial disparities and lingering tensions in cities such as St. Louis and Baltimore." —Economic Development Quarterly
"Cities across the Rust Belt have been significantly impacted by industrial decline and population loss. Aaron Cowan's book, A Nice Place to Visit , looks at Baltimore, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis. These four cities have been burdened by negative images and ethnic conflicts. City leaders have looked to the service industries and tourism to revitalize their urban economies. Cowan's book focuses on tourism planning....Overall, the book was an enjoyable read; it assesses a number of critical postindustrial urban themes including the role of leisure, events, and tourism-directed revitalization....Cowan offers a strong critical stance toward these tourist-oriented strategies, arguing that they often led to exclusion of lower income and minority residents." —Journal of Urban Affairs
"Cowan, in clear prose, details the transformation of American cities into tourism-oriented meccas. Through exhaustive research in periodicals, business journals, municipal records, and manuscript collections, he recounts the actions of political and business leaders as well as the reaction of poor blacks, those most often affected by urban renewal schemes. He thereby illustrates the postwar redesign of the urban landscape. He also notes the unintended outcomes of tourism development, as when Harborplace became Baltimore’s hip-hop epicenter during the 1980s. Cowan’s analysis is balanced, exposing the positives and negatives of the 'good community' sought by tourism boosters. This book is more than a tale of four cities; it is a compelling story of modern America." —American Historical Review
"Today, tourism is a key component of every city’s strategic plan, polished and perfected through a combination of sophisticated messaging and an array of curated attractions. In A Nice Place to Visit Aaron Cowan expertly probes the postwar roots of this trend by analyzing early efforts in Baltimore, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis to deploy tourist-oriented development as a tool for reversing long-standing patterns of aesthetic and economic decline.... Far from a simple narrative of rebranding and redevelopment, Cowan's analysis delves deeply into the specific geographical, economic, and political circumstances behind each city’s chosen course of action. Each case study also successfully illuminates broader cultural developments affecting communities nationwide." —The Journal of American History
"In chapter-length case studies of four Rust Belt cities—Cincinnati, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore—Cowan offers much-needed historical context, showing how tourist-led renewal might have been the best of limited options for deindustrializing cities.... Before examining each city in detail, Cowan provides an introductory chapter on American urban decline after World War II—an excellent standalone survey of a sprawling historical field.... Ultimately A Nice Place to Visit is most remarkable for its evenhandedness. Cowan rarely indulges in the haughty aesthetic disdain or handwringing over consumerism so familiar in works on postindustrial revitalization." —Ohio Valley History
"Cowan’s A Nice Place to Visit recounts two overlapping eras of tourist-oriented development by drawing examples from Cincinnati, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore.... In Cowan’s account, cities clamored for convention and tourist business while shrewdly aware of their rivals’ efforts.... (He) provide(s) a plethora of examples of legislation that enabled urban revitalization projects.... A Nice Place to Visit show(s) how thoroughly Rustbelt elites recognized the high stakes of their revitalization efforts." —Journal of Planning
"Cowan positions himself between advocated of tourism development and critics who claim it has resulted in the 'Disneyfication' of the urban experience. His case studies show that while tourism has not been a panacea for urban ills, it has improved the financial footing of cities and, in some cases, reconnected them with their suburban populations."
Table of Contents
1. Urban Decline and the Search for Solutions in Baltimore, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis after 1945
Heads in Beds and a Box with Docks: Conventions and the Restructuring of the Central City, 1945–1975
2. From Social Center to Convention Center: The Changing Function of Downtown Hotels in Postwar Cincinnati
3. "Fear and Greed": Race, the St. Louis Convention Center, and the Decline of Liberalism in the Postwar City
Cities Are Fun! Tourism, Image Making, and the "Livable City," 1970–1990
4. City of Champions: Three Rivers Stadium and the Shaping of Pittsburgh’s Postwar Image
5. The Accidental Tourist Trap: Image Making and the "Livable City" in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor
About the Author(s)
In the Series
Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy edited by David Stradling, Larry Bennett, and Davarian Baldwin
The Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy Series, edited by David Stradling, Larry Bennett, and Davarian Baldwin, was founded by the late Zane L. Miller to publish books that examine past and contemporary cities. While preserving the series’ foundational focus on the policy, planning, and environmental issues so central to metropolitan life, we also join scholarly efforts to push the boundaries of urban studies. We are committed to publishing work at the shifting intersections of cultural production, community formation, and political economy that shape cities at all scales, from the neighborhood to the transnational.