Back in December, the Ed Bacon Student Design Competition challenged students on a subject that event organizers say Philadelphia must soon tackle if the place of our nation's birth is to be the epicenter of the country's 250th Birthday Party. University-level students from all disciplines were asked to imagine an international World's Fair style celebration in Philadelphia, with activity centered in South Philadelphia, near the airport, stadiums, Fort Mifflin and FDR Park. A team from Cornell University won first place with their design, called Confluence Philadelphia 2026, a venue that will reflect not only a positive effect for the city in 2026, but also a lasting legacy. Considering, the first official World's Fair to be held in the United States was held in Philadelphia back in 1876 to celebrate the nation's 100th birthday (1876 Centennial Exposition), it only seems right to bring the expo back to the place where it all began, Philadelphia.
The student competition assignment was suggested by Andrew Hohns, a finance guy who ten years ago founded Young Involved Philadelphia and has more recently founded USA250, a non-profit organization aimed at not only bringing a year's worth of exhibitions in technology, sports, culture, history and the lively arts to the city, but using the celebration as a mechanism for attracting investment in the city's infrastructure from corporations, foundations, and other nations.
"I don't really see on the horizon many events that have the transformative capacity in terms of renewing infrastructure apart from USA 250," Hohns said. "We have an opportunity to seize it." This recorded by PlanPhilly at the award ceremony.
Hohns and his group are in the beginning stages, talking to movers and shakers in government, industry and philanthropy. As things move forward, he will share the students' work with those who may be planning for the 250th exhibitions and their long-range impact. The USA250 non-profit will soon be a 501(c)3 corporation, Hohn said. It will then need a board of directors and some full-time, paid staff to define a vision and reach out to the corporations, foundations, government leaders and citizens who can make it happen. One of the first goals will be raising seed money of between $500,000 and $1 million.
Hohns also talked about a few other big ideas, like General Electric being the electricity sponsor and in honor of the 250th anniversary presenting a Philadelphia neighborhood as the neighborhood of the future. The homes could be outfitted with solar rooftops, fiber optic cables, and top-of-the-line energy-saving insulation possibly taking the neighborhood completely off the grid. Other nations could build pavilions and other infrastructure showcasing the contribution they had in the development of America and Philadelphia. Poland, for example, could build an exhibition in Port Richmond that could become a Polish-American Community Center. China could make a gift of a Chinese Garden, a public green space built in decks over I-676 that would unite the north and south portions of Philadelphia's Chinatown with a beautiful public green space. The city could also use 2026 as a deadline to meet goals like lessening poverty and increasing literacy.
The 2026 event, Hohns believes, would do much more for the city than the Olympics. The Olympics is only a couple of weeks in the summer, he said. This could be a whole year of events- and, if done right, a huge boost in infrastructure and commerce. Honestly, if Philadelphia can win the 2024 Olympics and the 2026 World Expo, the city would surely be in the perfect position to secure funding that will support both events. The city's location is also key, smack dab in the middle of the North East Corridor, the expo and games would surely bring revenues to neighboring hubs like New York, Washington, and Boston.
The Cornell team contemplated "worlds fair" buildings and exhibition spaces becoming permanent structures, including residential housing. They have developed an ecologically friendly plan, of not just temporary spaces that will be torn down at the exhibitions end. they imagined the fair to be a catalyst for development, fostering national pride and establishing the USA as a leader in sustainable industry and development. By fostering a Public-Private vision for successful development and clearly defined programming and goals, the fair would have a much greater chance at producing a successful and sustainable economic turn around for the city. The team addressed energy and waste distribution, expansion of park land and wet land reclamation, and improved connections through trails and transit.
Images courtesy of Winning Cornell Team