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Op-Ed: The 2012 New York Olympics is lost. Long live the 2014 New York World's Fair.

by Fred Bernstein
July 6, 2005

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 2014 would give the city a far greater boost.

The 1939 and 1964 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 2014 – the 50th anniversary of New York's last World's Fair – could be the year New York reasserts itself as the most diverse and cosmopolitan city in the world. A fair (unlike the two-week-long Olympics) would bring millions of visitors to New York, in spring, summer, and fall.

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.

The fair would benefit the city, state, and nation. It would improve America’s image abroad, while bringing large amounts of money to New York. (Talk about win-win!) This year’s World’s Fair in Aichi, Japan, has already attracted an incredible 10.1 million visitors – and the summer vacation season is just starting.

A fair would also 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 2014 deadline would be just right – giving developers nine years to complete nine major buildings. 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.  Flushing Meadows Park, the site of the last two fairs, could be one venue. But why not build some of the pavilions on Governors Island, for which there is still no master plan? Indeed, the fair could be spread among all five boroughs – with transportation 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). 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 2014.

A committee of architects, engineers, and cultural and civic leaders should begin planning a fair. At the same time, 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.

The 2012 New York Olympics is dead. Long live the 2014 New York World's Fair.

Fred Bernstein, who studied architecture at Princeton University, is a regular contributor to Architectural Record, New York Times, Metropolis, Metropolitan Home, Oculus (the journal of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects), and other publications.

© 2005