Friday, May 21, 2021

A World’s Fair for a world that’s permanently fair @3QD [Hey, kids! Let's create a NEW World's Fair!]

I'm bumping this to the top of the queue because Tyler Cowen's Emergent Ventures has made Cameron Wiese a Progress Studies fellow so that he can re-animate and re-conceptualize an old idea and create a new World's Fair. From Weise's call to action:

Today, World's Fairs have been rebranded as "International Expositions" that occur every 5 years, and are a hollow shell of their former glory. They no longer showcase the promise of the future or celebrate achievement. Instead, they serve as national branding exercises, infrastructure development projects masquerading as innovation, architecture competitions, and an opportunity to promote tourism. If anything, they're the perfect representation of our current vision for the future: unfocused and uninspiring.

But it doesn't have to be this way; we can't afford for it to be this way.

The world has changed dramatically since 1984. We now live in the most incredible time in human history. The internet has brought billions of people together and tech companies have given us supercomputers in our pockets. We're starting to build hyperloops and supersonic jets. We're on the cusp of incredible breakthroughs in genetics, biology, medicine, food science, energy, transportation, manufacturing, computing, and robotics. We're finally going back to the moon and then on to Mars. We've once again seen the power of a collective vision with the record-breaking development of the COVID-19 vaccine.

* * * * *
I’ve got a new piece up at 3 Quarks Daily: World Island: Zeal Means Hope [The World’s Got Talent]. It’s about my friend, Jerry Greenberg, who now goes by “Zeal”, and his project to create a World Island, as he calls it, “a world’s fair for a world that’s permanently fair.” It was a wonderful quixotic idea, a $25 billion dollar city-within-a-city dedicated to peace and human flourishing. It was to be located on Governors Island, 172 acres in New York Harbor a quarter of a mill off the tip of Manhattan and only 100s of yards from Red Hook, Brooklyn.

The article tells the story of what happened between the time we meet in 2003 or 2004 and the time we had to deliver a proposal to locate World Island on Governors Island. The agency in charge of the island, GIPEC (Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation) was holding a competition for proposals. The proposals were due May 10, 2010. We made the deadline, with 5 minutes to spare.

Our proposal wasn’t accepted. No proposals were. I continued to work with Jerry on other locations for the project, Sierra Leone, and Athens, Greece were looking good at various times, and with other projects, such as WISE, World Investment Summit/Exposition. But this isn’t about that.

It’s about something else, about Jerry’s influence on others. He’s worked with a handful of people quite closely on these various projects, a very large handful. But he’s met 1000s of others and worked with some of them for a bit. How’d he change their lives?

Zeal's database system
In my own case, in November of 2007, a year and a half after the Governors Island proposal, I wrote a document, Jersey City: From a Skate Park to the World, and posted it to the web. I told that story in a post, How I Found a Home in Jersey City and Got Steve Fulop Elected Mayor, Part 3. That part about electing the mayor, that’s a bit tongue in cheek; but I did give a copy of that report to Fulop. It was about a park project, a two-and-a-half mile cultural corridor, through the middle of Jersey City. I figured it would cost a quarter to half a billion dollars, much cheaper than World Island, and would transform the city. Here’s the executive summary.
Jersey City has an unparalleled opportunity for developing park space and cultural amenities in a two-mile corridor running from the Powerhouse Arts District in the East, along the Sixth Street Embankment to the Palisades, then up the River Line to the Bergen Tunnel, and west through the Erie Cut-Bergen Arches to JFK Boulevard. What is unique about this strategy is that is builds on both abandoned railroad properties and on Jersey City’s status as a center for graffiti art of the highest caliber. By capitalizing on its graffiti heritage, Jersey City can attract tourists from around the world and establish itself as an international center of cutting-edge art.

This development strategy includes three park-garden areas: 1) Sixth Street Embankment, 2) River Line Walk, and 3) Erie Cut. A skate park is already being planned for the River Line Walk area. At full development the Erie Cut would have a series of small gardens in various national styles – Indian, Chinese, Spanish, etc. – and a conservatory linking the bottom of the cut to the street-level surface(Route 139). There would also be two modest museum complexes: 1) a graffiti museum at 12th and Monmouth, and 2) a railroad museum nearby at the Bergen Tunnel. These complexes would include restaurants and shops.

A thumbnail calculation indicates that these developments could bring new tourist revenue to the city in the amount $36 to $90 million (or more) annually. Other benefits include increased property values along the corridor and new businesses.
Crazy a way – where’s the quarter to half billion construction costs going to come from? – but not so crazy. It was a vision for the future, not a concrete plan. Visions work indirectly.

A couple years later I gave a copy of that report to Greg Edgell. Since then he and I, along with dozens of others, have been working on it in one way or another. We worked with June Jones (Morris Canal CDC) and skateboarders to get the city to agree to build a skate park, albeit in a different place from the one proposed in that report. More recently we started The Bergen Arches Project, which aims to complete another aspect of that proposal, and at a much lower cost.

The vision I projected in that report is thus coming to life. I wouldn’t have written it if I hadn’t spent two or three years working on the World Island project with Zeal.

Ideas have influences. Visions have consequences. Such is the way of the world.
Addendum:  You can download some World Island documents at Scribd.

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