Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood... — Daniel Burnham
Hard as it is to believe for someone my age, it's been 50 years since construction began on the Space Needle, the iconic symbol of Seattle and the centerpiece of the 1962 World's Fair. Seattle leaders elbowed out much better-known cities, including New York, to gain international accreditation of the event, which was a coming out party to the world for the Emerald City. The site is now Seattle Center, a cultural mecca in the central core right down the monorail from downtown. It was actually Seattle's second world's fair and had initially been developed to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, whose grounds became the University of Washington campus. Another one of my adopted hometowns, San Diego, also held two world's fairs, in 1915 and 1935 — their legacy was magnificent Balboa Park.
My real hometown never did one world's fair, even though it passed the population mark to be a big city more than half a century ago. It may be just as well. Unlike Seattle or San Diego (or even Knoxville, Tenn.), Phoenix would have built something out in the middle of nowhere and, unlike Seattle lucking out with the timeless Space Needle, suffered the worst of modern architecture. Maybe the dusty streets for an empty subdivision would have been left behind. Indeed, I was approached by a group of well-meaning folks in the mid-2000s to promote a world's fair in the former gravel beds of the Salt River. That it was far from downtown never seemed to have occured to them.
Still, this is another sign of Phoenix's astounding lack of ambition. It plays in the majors. It just doesn't want to admit it. I recall hearing from someone who moved to Phoenix and tried, within his modest means, to push forward a project of civic betterment. He was taken aside and told, "People move to the Valley to be left alone. That's the way they like it. You either have to live with that or move." He moved.