When the City Fair was first held in 1970, its character and purpose were reflected in its theme: "Life in the city: the culture, the pleasure, the economic possibilities." Diverse neighborhoods participated, setting up booths that boasted their unique character, and the smell of ethnic food wafted over the fairgrounds. It was a time when enthusiasm for Baltimore bubbled, urbanism was in, and the possibilities seemed endless.
Perhaps it is metaphorical that 20 years later the City Fair ended up under the expressway -- a culturally sterile collection of carnival rides and arcade games that could just as well be in Philadelphia as Baltimore -- and, no surprise, was deep in debt.
Now, as Waverly contemplates hosting the 1991 City Fair, it's time for rethinking. The fair, as it is, will never succeed -- largely because people just don't want to attend anymore. Fiscally and culturally, Baltimore needs to go back to the future, with a fair that again whips up pride in living here and emphasizes the city's uniqueness by drawing on the energy and diversity of its citizens. If the Schmoke administration fails to refocus the debate to reflect this need, the city fair may well fade quickly into history.