New York won't be hosting the 2012 Olympics, and there are reasons to be sad about that. But there are also opportunities ahead.
A world's fair in New York in 2015 would give the city a far greater boost.
The 1939 and 1964-65 New York World's Fairs were thrilling advertisements for American know-how and creativity. The 20th Century wouldn’t have been the American century without them.
Some say the 21st century will be the Chinese century. If so, the World's Fair planned for Shanghai in 2010 is a harbinger. Already, there are signs that the Chinese will spare no expense to create a technologically and architecturally dazzling expo.
But 2015 –- the 50th anniversary of New York's last World's Fair –- could be the year New York reasserts itself as the world's most cosmopolitan city. A fair would bring millions of visitors to New York, in spring, summer, and fall. (The 2005 fair in Aichi, Japan, attracted an incredible 22 million visitors.)
Right now, no U.S. city is planning a World’s Fair, and American participation in foreign fairs is spotty. Nearly 200 countries managed to build pavilions at the Hannover, Germany, fair in 2000, but the U.S. stayed away. And the State Department hasn't committed to participating in the Shanghai fair. Even more surprising, in 2002, the U.S. dropped out of the international organization that sanctions world's fairs – the Paris-based Bureau of International Expositions – in order to avoid paying dues of just a few thousand dollars a year.
But New Yorkers can show the way.
A fair would give New York incentive to complete a number of planned civic improvements. There is no deadline for finishing work at Ground Zero, which is one of the reasons construction there is dragging. A 2015 deadline would be just right. Several important transportation projects, talked about for years, would gain new urgency.
The fair would bring great architecture to New York – every past fair has been a showcase for innovative design. And it could benefit every part of the city.
It would improve America's image abroad.
Governors Island, for which there is still no master plan, could be the centerpiece of the fair -- with transportation from Brooklyn, Manhattan, New Jersey and Staten Island via air or water. (If we could build suspension bridges in the 19th century, think of the high-tech transport we can build in the 21st). Other sites (including Flushing Meadows Park, home of the last New York World's Fairs) would could have important roles. As would existing cultural attractions: A World's Fair wouldn't require a new stadium, or new museums or libraries, but it would give all the old ones reasons to spruce up by 2015.
A committee of architects, engineers, and cultural and civic leaders has begun planning a bid for the 2015 World's Fair. See the blog at left for news of the committee's work.
Meanwhile, New York's Congressional delegation should insist that the federal government rejoin the Bureau of International Expositions, the organization that chooses host cities for World’s Fairs. (If Slovenia and Equatorial Guinea can afford the dues, we can, too.)
The U.S. has to get back in the game.