World's Fair 2010: "Better Cities, Better Lives"
Haibao, the mascot for Expo 2010.

Haibao, the mascot for Expo 2010.

Via NAC, I see that Shanghai, which is hosting the 2010 World Expo, has declared its theme to be Better City, Better Life. The mostly unnavigable site even has a whole page outlining what this theme means, highlighting the economic power of cities and the cultural benefits of urban diversity.

It seems like the Expo planners haven’t quite decided, or at least communicated, what this theme will actually mean. But it’s something to keep your eyes on.

World’s Fairs, the predecessors of today’s World Expos, have an important history in urban planning. Americans are probably most familiar with the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which kicked off the City Beautiful movement in the States. But World’s Fairs have always had a major impact on our imagination of what the city is and should be. The 1900 World’s Fair is Paris is also largely associated with beginning a trend towards technological modernism in European Cities. The 1900 Exposition had the first moving walkway take visitors around the fairgrounds, coincided with the opening of the Paris Metro, and was centered around the Palace of Electricity (these last two links go to videos shot by Thomas Edison in 1900 – so cool!). The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair housed the Homes of Tomorrow exhibit, which helped kick off pre-fab houses and presaged the spread of suburbia across the United States. Maybe the strangest example is the 1942 World’s Fair, which would have been outside Rome, had World War II not broken out. The site, which was partially built, is perhaps the most important artifact showing what the fascist city would have looked like.

China is a rising power and one that understands the symbolism of these world spectacles better than any other nation. What they choose to design for the 2010 Expo will be a revealing look into the future of the Chinese city but also the world city moving into the 21st century.

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