Inside San Francisco’s 21st Century World’s Fair – Forbes
“What does it take to be a citizen in the 21st century?” Jake Levitas asked, during his panel on the Future of Cities at the Worlds Fair Nano in San Francisco. Levitas is the founder of Our City, a Bay Area-based nonprofit focused on getting communities engaged with their cities. “Cities without human connection scare me,” he said. His fellow panelists nodded gravely. For fellow panelist and urban planner Molly Turner, the solution to this problem is algorithmic, no matter how cliche that sounds.“Big data is a hip word, like VR headsets,” she said. “But it’s a big word that allows me to talk more.” Turner’s point is that cities have more control than people think, often able to see their own police, housing and immigration policies (healthcare is separate as that’s federally governed).
This type of discussion was regularly raised throughout the panels held during the two-day Worlds Fair Nano held in San Francisco this January. It’s been a while since the America has hosted a Worlds Fair — the last big expo was in Louisiana in 1984. San Francisco’s hosted two world’s fairs in the last hundred years, the Panama–Pacific International Exposition, which took place in 1915, built where the Palace of Fine Arts now stands (the building is a reconstruction) and their last World’s Fair took place in 1939, the Golden Gate International Exposition, held on Treasure Island.
Historically, World Fairs have served as a showcase for new technology and innovation, a chance for other countries to show off their designs and to give the public access to gape at the new wizardry. World Fairs fell out of public fashion however, and after being awkwardly renamed as World Expos, they pretty much disappeared from America.
Now, history buff and dreamer Michael Weiss, 25, is trying to bring these back into fashion. In 2015, Weiss founded a company called Worlds Fair USA, and crowdfunded money for his Worlds Fair Nano events, showcases he hopes will be the precursor to full-scale fairs in the future. This San Francisco event is actually the second of his events; the first was held in New York in August 2016.
But though Weiss’ intentions are good, the two-day event felt a little confusing. To start with, admission started at $45 for one day which makes it an expensive trip, and the mixture of things on offer didn’t mesh that well. There were gadgets to play with, talks to attend and vendors touting their wares, but it felt slapdash and it was unclear if adults or children were the target for these products.
Some discussions, like The Future Of Cities panel referenced above, provoked thoughtful discussion about industry-wide problems, while other panels seemed like promotional marketing for a company’s product. Case in point: The Future of Food panel, was presented by Neil Grimmer, and seemed like one long infomercial for his DNA testing health food startup. A great platform for Grimmer, but hardly the best entertainment.