Katie Uva: “Dawn of a New Day: New York City Between the Fairs”

Katie Uva

“Dawn of a New Day: New York City Between the Fairs”

February 21, 2014
2:30pm

Uva

On a balmy spring day in 1939, the New York World’s Fair officially opened for business. That day, it welcomed roughly 200,000 visitors to its extensive grounds, which had only recently been developed out of the old Corona ash dump. The Fair’s numerous pavilions and attractions all loosely coalesced around a single theme, “Building the World of Tomorrow,” and its desire to compel and reinvent and present visitors with the idea of a technologically­enhanced future was epitomized by the Fair’s two symbols, the Trylon and Perisphere. The Perisphere contained an installation called Democracity, designed by Henry Dreyfuss and sponsored by the Fair Committee, which took visitors on a journey into the city of the future. Not far away at the General Motors Pavilion another exhibit, Norman Bel Geddes’ Futurama, reinforced this vision of the city. Both exhibits provided a bird’s­eye view of a massive urban area, but an urban area that had been planned, rationalized, and streamlined in such a way as to eliminate the ills that plagued the American city of 1939. There was no crime in the city of tomorrow, no slums, and no poverty. Human conflict and hardship had been eradicated by the heroic efforts of planners and designers. Progress was described as inevitable and uniform. As Norman Bel Geddes himself put it, “for years there was talk that machinery had enslaved the individual, but now it can free the individual…the country as a whole will follow. Living in such a world of light, fresh air, open parks, easy movement, the man of 1960 will more naturally play his full part in the community and develop in mind and body.”

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