Flickr user anokarina (CC)
Pullman is one of many Chicago neighborhoods worth exploring. The Historic Pullman District was designated a national monument in 2015.
Airbnb recently published a report on the impacts of home sharing in Chicago. I’ve lived on the southeast side of Chicago for more than 30 years, so this got me thinking: Could my neighborhood be a destination point and enjoy tourist investment? Before I list my Chatham condo in time for NFL draft weekend I decided to take a closer look.
The sharing economy has evolved over the last 10 years from an alternative consumer lifestyle to part of our daily life. According to Howard Tullman, CEO of 1871, advancements in technology have made it possible to rent out everything we are not using from clothes to cars and homes. More so, this surplus economy has empowered the average person to become an overnight entrepreneur. One can hang a shingle on their car, home or even themselves.
The benefits of “sharing” are obvious. Cheaper rates, unique experiences and extra income. But can the vehicles for sharing and the lure of a good deal entice visitors to Uber or Divvy the road less traveled? Are we ready to chuck the visitors guide and dare to explore places west of Ashland Avenue and south of Hyde Park? According to the Airbnb impact study, more than 4,000 people opened their homes to more than 165,000 visitors during July 2014 to June 2015. Seventy-nine percent of those guests were seeking to stay in a specific neighborhood rather than downtown.
Graph from Airbnb
This is where you can book a stay through Airbnb in Chicago compared to available hotels.
Airbnb users can book a room in more than 70 neighborhoods. These properties cover a considerably larger area than hotels and conference centers. Over a 12-month period, guests spent $312,000 in Bronzeville; $1.7 million in Humboldt Park and $2.1 million in Pilsen because they rented in those communities. These figures prove visitors want destinations that reflect a broader culture, history and character of the city and its residents.
On average, Airbnb hosts make $5,300 a year sharing their rooms about 45 nights. That’s not a bad side hustle for renting a room about four nights a month. These days, more and more people are looking to supplement their regular income to make ends meet. Some homeowners struggling with affordability have benefited from sharing their real estate; in this way, Airbnb can help owners stay in communities that might be otherwise becoming unaffordable. Hosts also report social as well as economic benefits. Airbnb shared testimonials from a few Chicago hosts. Carrie owns a hair salon in Logan Square. Her children travel every summer so she rents out her place to foreign exchange students. Alpha is an artist living in a live/work loft in Bronzeville. She hosts artists from around the world. As a result, she has broadened the reach of the people she meets and shares art with.
Lakefront access, shopping amenities and easy transit make some areas of the city more popular destination points than others. Yet, economic development tools like the recently introduced Neighborhood Opportunity Bonus will use funds generated in the central business district and invest it in struggling neighborhoods. If the program works as proposed, fees from downtown developments will help finance economic development improvements in neighborhoods with the greatest need.
Such tools, which tie prosperity in one part of the city with needs in another, will only help to spur more visitors and more investment in parts of the city that have long lacked it. Community residents and organizations have a huge role to play in determining how best to invest in their neighborhood, build on existing assets and create new spaces that generate interest and revenue.
In recent years I’ve been struck by multiple efforts to highlight lesser known areas of the city. For example, in 2012, Gospel Fest moved from Grant Park to Bronzeville in a nod to its origins in the historic neighborhood. This festival and others like it did succeed in bringing a new audience and some economic benefits to neighborhoods. South Chicago and North Lawndale hosted the Dave Matthews concert and Riot Fest. However, they were arguably insular events that missed the opportunity to introduce visitors to attractions that would result in a return trip.
Not all is lost. There is a sense of expectation with two exciting developments for South Side communities. In 2015, the Historic Pullman District was designated a national monument. It is significant as the first planned industrial community in the United States. Pullman's distinctive rowhomes and beautifully maintained town center transport visitors to the 1800’s. It’s also a great place to explore the start of the African-American labor movement. For people who live to check off National Park visitations or want an early start to their Pullman historic walking tour, an Airbnb stay in the neighborhood makes perfect sense.
Additionally, Chicagoans await the Barak Obama Presidential Library and Museum. The library and museum will attract millions of annual visitors. Woodlawn and Washington Park expect to capitalize on opportunities for investment to support tourism.
These new and exciting ventures bring positive attention to the South Side. As new people discover amenities like these, we should invest in ways that let folks connect the dots to explore more. This will encourage guests to look for the gems in all neighborhoods, not just the ones featured on TripAdvisor.
Growing up in Chicago, my mom and grandma took us everywhere on public transportation. We traveled to Lincoln Park to enjoy the open space and lakefront festivals. We learned to navigate through the suburbs to see the animals at Brookfield Zoo. I fondly remember our long summer walks to Little Italy for Italian ice.
As I grew older I found my own special places. I loved riding my bike along the lake at Calumet Park on the east side. I learned what vegan meant at Soul Vegetarian in Chatham and still enjoy grabbing a Rainbow cone in Beverly. These were places for socializing. Places brimming with activity. Places that welcomed you in.
When you stay in someone’s home you gain the chance to live like a local. And Chicagoans love to talk about our neighborhoods and the places that make them unique. Such places can be shared more widely with visitors who invest in the neighborhood economy and take home something more valuable than a t-shirt.