Seattle's 2012 World's Fair

If Washington state were hosting a real world’s fair this year instead of commemorating one, what would it look like?
Bill Virgin |   January 2012   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION
University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, UW 19600z

Was the future a lot more fun in the past?

To judge by the vision of the future at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, whose 50th anniversary we commemorate this year, you might think so. The Space Needle! The monorail! Computers! Cars floating on air! Those attending the Century 21 Exposition had a lot to look forward to.

The future looks a lot less inspiring these days. Either we’re worried about how the things we’ve invented will do us in or we’re trying to think up ways to avoid doing ourselves in. Or the science is too small to see. Or, in these financially straitened times, we simply can’t afford it.

Has the future been canceled for lack of interest? Did excitement about the future really go out of style?

To find out, let’s pay a visit to the imaginary 2012 Seattle World’s Fair. We’ll exercise the imagination—which is what a real, physical world’s fair is supposed to do anyway—to envision what a 2012 fair might tell us about the next 50 years.

We have experts such as Bryce Seidl, who attended the 1962 fair as a student at Sammamish High School and today is president and CEO of Pacific Science Center, situated in what was the fair’s U.S. Science Pavilion. “The first thing I’d do is put in things to invite people to imagine,” says Seidl. “Being able to predict what’s specifically going to be there in 50 years is a really difficult thing to do. It’s a lot of fun but probably meaningless, except to stretch people’s imaginations.”

Credit: Museum of History & Industry

Seidl says the fair should have a goal of encouraging “people with huge curiosity and huge willingness to explore and imagine and create and innovate. I’d want to feed anything that causes people to think creatively, imaginatively [and] leave the baggage of today behind.”

Ed Sobey, the Redmond author of many books on technology in our everyday lives, a former museum director and the founder of the Northwest Invention Center, says a 2012 fair “would be very different from 50 years ago. Information technology would dominate, but so, too, would advances in other technologies. The penetration of computers and embedded technologies into our lives was not predicted and, 50 years from now, will probably be viewed very differently from today.”

Having such a fair in Seattle actually makes a lot more sense now. The city has

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