USA at 500: An Open Assignment

I recently took my two oldest kids to Seattle, and of course we went to Space Needle.  It was a beautiful day and Seattle is a beautiful city, so we reveled in the 360-degree views.  Our time was short so I didn’t get to read every placard, but I did learn that it was conceived and built for the 1962 World Fair as a thought experiment in how people would live in the future.  Of course we are still waiting for Jetsons-like living, but Space Needle has taken its place in Seattle’s heart, both as an iconic addition to its skyline and as an immensely popular tourist destination. 

I know some of the people who are building momentum around usa250, which wants to rally multiple events and celebrations in Philadelphia for the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  I wish them well and hope that indeed all eyes will be on Philly in 2026.  But I also want to offer a little bit of a thought experiment in the same vein as Space Needle.  Namely, what might be Philly’s Space Needle?  Meaning the following three things: 

1. It would represent a vision of the city and the country circa 2276.  250 years is a long time to look ahead.  Looking back to 1776 from the present day, Philly was clustered close to the Delaware River, the population was 40,000, and only white males with property could vote.  Looking back to 2026 from the vantage point of 2276, what things will seem hopelessly antiquated?  How will we be a better city and country for all by 2276?

2. It would balance veneration of the old with openness to the new, and accessibility for locals and tourists alike.  In a place like Philly, whose hallowed destinations are hundreds of years old, it can seem shallow and commercial to manufacture a new must-see destination.  But everything has to have a genesis.  There was a time the Parkway was derided and now it is iconic.  What can simultaneously respect Philly’s history, claim its current attention, and represent its possible future? 

3. Lest this just be a heady thought exercise, let’s inject some realism into the matter.  Where in the city would you put this thing?  How would you pay for it?  How would you program it?  What would you charge?

This would be a fabulous exercise for a day-long charrette or a semester-long studio, so if you are a design or anthropology or urban studies thought leader and you want to run with this as such, go on ahead and you’re welcome.  As for me, having thrown out the question, I myself will be noodling over what would be my answer over the next few weeks. 

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