A local group aims to bring a historic yet international event — the World’s Fair — to the Twin Cities. However, Minnesota may not be the best place for it.
Nonprofit corporation Minnesota World’s Fair is attempting to gain congressional support to bring the United States back on to the World’s Fair circuit. They have their eyes set on our very own North Star State.
If you took an American history class, you may recall the 1893 World Colombian Exposition, also known as the 1893 World’s Fair, in Chicago. The fair paid homage to the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ landing in North America, but more importantly, it asserted America’s individuality and technological power for the first time on an international stage. The event also demonstrated Chicago’s recovery following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and put the city on the map.
The World’s Fair or World Expo, a prolific Bureau of International Expositions event, has historically been a source of major innovation and futurism. Successful expos have attracted millions of visitors and cost billions of dollars. Shanghai, host of the 2010 World Expo, had an official budget of $4 billion, though some estimate costs were more than $58 billion, and saw a record 73 million visitors. Well-known landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower and the Space Needle, rose out of some fairs.
Fast-forward 120 years, and Americans are likely unfamiliar with the once-prominent expo. This is understandable, as North America has not held a world expo since 1986. The expos, once heavily rooted in the Western world, are now popping up abroad.
Would a World Expo in Minnesota be cool? Absolutely. These events have been known to result in iconic structures and have been the stage for innovative products like the television and telephone. Infrastructure investments and improvements would likely be imperative and would generate thousands of construction jobs.
It’s important, however, to note the historical context around host cities. From the first expo in London in 1851 to the latest planned expo in Dubai in 2020, many expos take place in rapidly urbanizing and changing parts of the world. Europe held most of the expos in the 19th century. In the 20th century, the United States and Canada held a majority of the expos. Of the past and upcoming 21st century expos, most of the hosts are outside the Western world, in places like Dubai (United Arab Emirates), Shanghai (China) and Astana (Kazakhstan). The expo tends to be held in developing cities that wish to propel themselves onto the world stage.
The Minnesota World Expo pipe dream may potentially become reality, but historically, it would not suit the Twin Cities. Regional leaders should instead focus on less grandiose goals to better improve the lives of their current and future residents, rather than expo goers.