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Frank Gehry designed open-air stage of the Millennium Park in Chicago. Publicity photo

Before you read any further, try to guess approximately how many tourists visit Chicago every year.

Right answer: 45 million tourists visit Chicago every year, of which almost 35 million are so-called leisure tourists who simply come to see the city. In comparison, France has 74 million visitors every year, and Italy has 43 million. Studies show that tourists to Chicago spent about 12 billion dollars a year. These astronomical figures, of course, can befuddle even a person whose imagination has been cultivated by the works on display in the Art Institute of Chicago. It’s also important to note that, according to studies, the number one destination for tourists to Chicago is Millennium Park and its nearby institutions.

If there is one thing that the nations of the Baltic Sea region can learn from Chicago, then it will sound rather trivial: You must understand what is the main advantage of your competitiveness. For example, Chicago could have tried to erect copies of baroque palaces, to build “English gardens” with figural sculptures, to conjure up Venice on the shores of Lake Michigan, and in this way to create something similar to a Disneyland of culture. Yet Chicago will never be a city of “Old Europe,” and in the best case scenario it would only be able to create a copy that simulates the authentic object. That’s why Chicagoans decided to act in the opposite way: to form a modern twentieth- and twenty-first-century city whose architecture and cultural institutions embody a widely conceived modernism and pursuits that strive to immortalize the spirit of the age.

It seems that the city’s residents and tourists approve of this decision, because the result has given Chicago a unique advantage. It’s hard to name another city that has envisioned and envisions its development plans in such contemporary visual language. If you wish to see twentieth- and twenty-first-century visual culture in concentrated form, Chicago is an excellent destination.