Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Another modest proposal

By Guilhermeduartegarcia (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Guilhermeduartegarcia CC BY-SA 3.0,
via Wikimedia Commons
Almost exactly ten years have passed since Brian Ashton lamented the decision by the Canadian government to decline to submit a bid for Expo 2015 on Toronto's behalf. Today we s another flurry of efforts to promote a bid for the 2025 international exhibition. As before, press reports focus on the political and business leaders supporting the idea of a bid, with sometimes a quick note of the potential costs and the number of jobs "created". The reports don't address the environmental sustainability of the fair or of the changes to urban structure required for the fair.

Hosting a world's fair has the advantage of bringing people from all around the globe into one place. Given the way people actually travel, bringing huge numbers of people to a single place has a serious environmental cost. In the past, the educational benefits from world's fairs outweighed the environmental costs. In 1967, millions of people lined up the tour the Czechoslovakian pavillion, where a presentation by the brilliant innovators Josef Svoboda and Miroslav Pflug showcased integrated (Diapolyecran, Laterna Magika, Polyvision) that provided the multimedia experience the World Wide Web would later deliver, just as scientists in the United States created the first link in what would grow into the Internet. And there lies the question. In 1967, it took a whole pavilion and the efforts of a nation state sponsor to provide a multimedia experience. It doesn't any more. We need to ask the awkward question the articles on political support for world's fairs don't: in the age of Internet, in the age of the Web, does the advantage of bringing millions of people to one city justify the cost in carbon?
By Andrea Booher (FEMA Photo Library.) Public domain,
via Wikimedia Commons
Promoting an expo bid for Toronto involves  a complication: the site. All the proposals for a Toronto Expo so far have identified a single site: the port lands at the east end of Toronto bay. In other words, if we hold expo, we will eliminate almost all of the remaining industrial land serviced by water transportation, and commit ourselves to a future as a financial, cultural, and intellectual hub. More seriously, we will also commit to bring virtually all the physical objects we use into our city by rail and truck. Assuming we find a way to power trucks using hydrogen fuel cells or some form of solar power, that course of action makes a good deal of sense, at least for people in Toronto who flourish in a completely post-industrial economy. It assumes a lot about a critical technology: right now, the diesel engines powering our truck and rail fleets emit a considerable proportion of the greenhouse gasses our city produces. Turning a major part of the remaining port facilities in this city into toys means taking a considerable gamble. It may make sense, The pleasure we can have, the knowledge we can exchange, the culture we can showcase, all that may justify the loss of the port. It would still make sense for the project's backers to justify that aspect of their proposals.

No comments: