Expo World Fairs are urban laboratories

David Leonard is a PhD candidate at York University researching the economic and cultural impact of Expo World Fairs.

Canada can be a global focus point for innovation, and hosting an expo is a means to deliver on this vision and showcase it to the international community; in an era of “fast and profound change,” expos serve as a means to take stock of national and international accomplishments while providing a forum for the discussion of novel possibilities for the future.


Expos are urban laboratories – they are megaevents where the focus is not distraction nor even primarily entertainment, but on interrogation of the conditions of modern life. Expos are not a spectacle, they are a forum for conversation and collaboration. They are uniquely collaborative compared to other megaevents – each visitor is free to experience and think about the site, its pavilions, and any displays in their own way – indeed, they are urged to do so. While at other megaevents visitors are so often passive spectators, at an Expo they become active in a conversation with international reach.

Many people from all walks of life also participate in organizing and developing the project both before an Expo opens and during its operation. Expos are innovative by their very nature, and originated in the nineteenth century as a means for showcasing new and exciting technologies to the general public. They still serve a similar purpose. Expos are also powerful international branding tools; by hosting an Expo and participating in it, Torontonians and Canadians all across the country can show themselves to the international community as a confident nation of innovators.


World Expos differ from Olympics or Pan Am Games

Expos differ from Olympics, or Pan Am Games; they are catalysts that accelerate the development of their time, producing new solutions to contemporary problems through the conversations they develop. They allow the public to not only see but also participate in the future of their urban environment. These spaces of experimentation and exploration develop conversations that outlast expos and lead to lasting changes in the built environment.breadboard_fp03

Each visitor to an Expo participates in these conversations to some degree, and will take new, challenging ideas home with them when they leave the expo grounds. Expos have the potential to innovate how people live their lives, just from a visit to their grounds. Who knows what new ideas and new technologies people may encounter as they explore Expo? From the IMAX screen to the City Beautiful movement, from the Ferris Wheel to freeways, from video-conferencing to touchscreens, expos have long served as a means of advertising new beliefs and technologies and as means through which the “intercultural exchange of innovation” has been facilitated.

Expo will harness creativity, incorporating the cutting edge of Canadian academics, artists, developers, entrepreneurs, and scientists for instance. For six months in 2025, Canada’s cutting edge can interact with the general visiting public, and with representatives of the international community. There is no way to fully predict the possibilities an expo might realize through these interactions, but the promise is enormous. In their capacity as an international forum, Canadian businesses will have an opportunity to show themselves off to the world – as forward thinking, ready to meet the challenges of the future and devise novel solutions.


Toronto City Council has already asked, should a bid be successful, that Expo 2025 be the most sustainable Expo ever hosted. So, in 2025 in Toronto, the pressing concern of sustainability might be a conversation that the world can have, together, at Expo. Together with nation representatives exhibiting from around the world, we might devise how to make our cities more livable, and more environmentally friendly. While we do not yet know what our theme may be, we know that it will address the challenges of the modern world, and in doing so it will invite all participants in the Expo to participate in devising a solution.