A World's Fair For Chicago?

I know it’s a crazy idea but…

At the tail end of the 19th century Chicago picked itself up from the ashes of a devastating fire and proudly invited the world to pay a visit to the Columbian Exposition in what is now Jackson Park. If you ask me, it’s time to think about doing it again.

The fate of our cities is up for grabs.  Covid and the internet technology have created incentives that pull us apart.  Empty office buildings and shuttered businesses are the norm. What comes next, for Chicago and for all the cities of the world?  That’s exactly the question a World’s Fair could address.

There are a myriad of reasons that World’s Fairs have gone out of fashion over the last century,but the most obvious is money. Events like this have traditionally been money losers.

But, on the other hand- it seems obvious that bringing people to see Chicago is good forChicago.  To steal a phrase from the movie “Jerry Maguire”,  Chicago in the summer is a city that has you at hello. It’s a city to fall in love with. But you’ve got to see it to believe it.

I’m one of those who thinks our newly minted slogan “Chicago Not in Chicago” is on the wrong track. It may grab us a place in the minds of others, but better to go for their hearts. The best way to get people to fall in love with Chicago is draw them to Buckingham Fountain, where they will surely look around in awe and say to themselves, as so many have, “Wow! I didn’t realize what a beautiful place this is.”

The evolution of cities and their place in the story of civilization is a mega-topic and an unfolding story.  History has placed us at an inflection point. A world’s fair could be a forum that invites creative contributions to that story, and in the process serves as akick starter for the next stages in Chicago’s story-a grand project that can help us all in our return from the virtual to the real.

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  • The most recent World's Fair is still going on in Dubai, the Dubai Expo 2020. It has not been the success as anticipated because of the interruption of the ability of people to travel. In fact, it was delayed an entire year. Also, the marketing of the Fair was horrible and did not focus on the Western World.

    I'm really afraid that the idea of experiencing things virtually will doom large events like World's Fairs. I believe the 1933 Chicago World's Fair eventually made money, but I doubt that a Fair today could do to the enormous costs associated with them.

  • I am torn. Liking the idea leaves me open to feeling like the generals accused of fighting the last war. Fairs succeeded twice, and I doubt a third one would work.

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