Americans once became excited about the future, soaking up ideas from near and far. Families would travel hundreds of miles, even across the country, for an event like the 1962 world's fair in Seattle.
Crosscut's Knute Berger's series of articles from the current international exposition in Shanghai brought home the vast distance between that kind of outward-looking, optimistic attitude and today's rather subdued America. There hasn't been an international exposition here, Berger wrote, since 1984. And America is largely unaware of how people in the world's most populous country are gathering in Shanghai, eagerly looking to the future and the rest of the world.
Berger has a unique ability to write insightfully about virtually any topic involving Puget Sound — as we like to say, he's our "chief Northwest native." But he has traveled much of the world to take in world's fairs (they have essentially disappeared here). And the ongoing Expo 2010 in Shanghai is, as Berger reported, the largest one ever.
The series highlights Berger's dogged reporting, critical thinking, and insight. And then there's Berger's ability to mix in humor. My own favorite was when, in introducing his report on the U.S. participation (and nearly non-participation), he talked about trying to explain his trip to Shanghai for the world's fair to a young woman, who seemed to equate it with an agriculturally oriented summer or harvest season celebration, asking, "You mean like with booths and stuff?" Berger wrote: "Yes, I went to China to do the Puyallup."
Being a longtime Seattleite, Berger is not known for his ability to withstand heat. So, I suppose it's a measure of his passion for soaking in everything a fair (of the international variety) has to offer that he plunged into the heat and humidity of Shanghai and returned with such rich, compellingly told stories.
If you want to take a little time to catch up with the series or any of its parts, here are the "Our man in Shanghai" articles in the order in which they appeared:
In a first for Crosscut, Judy Lightfoot, with some advice from our tech master Jon Sayre, taped a camera to her bicycle helmet to produce a video for her story about the problems for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders created by the poor condition of many Seattle streets. Her story and video are here:
Finally, a couple of other highlights:
"Feds' stimulus for high-speed rail is low-speed," by C.B. Hall.
"Center panel's Chihuly deliberations will be in private," by Michele Matassa Flores.
Have a good weekend. And remember, there's a lot more summer before the Puyallup.