Five Reasons Why Previous Expos Left A Positive Legacy

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With Dubai Expo 2020 less than two years away, we look at five reasons from the past as to why past expos left a positive legacy

The list of predecessor host cities having successful expos is a long list, with each of them contributing something positive that has tested the length of time post-event. As Dubai Expo 2020 is less than two years away, we look at five reasons from the past as to why past expos left a positive legacy:


Expos have brought an array of iconic landmarks – from Crystal Palace in London to the Atomium in Brussels to the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

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Many might be stunned that the Eiffel Tower in Paris was once not popularly regarded by many Parisians and viewed as an eyesore. It stood as the gateway for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, the World’s Fair, which honored the 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille.

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There was nothing of its scale or structure of that magnitude at that time and it would, upon completion, be the world’s tallest man-made structure for many years. Despite opposition and dislike from the public, the tower, which was only supposed to stand for 20 years after the expo, has gone beyond its lifespan to be the most visited paid monument in the world.

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Many cities credit hosting expo as a positive consequence of its global status and recognition. For example, the Chicago’s World’s Fair in 1893, which theme was to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus discovering America, is one many look up to as a positive legacy expo.

Chicago was visionary and ambitious. Chicago grew tremendously during industrialization and was also recovering from the recent Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which destroyed much of the city. Expo showcased Chicago’s vision in not only putting on a great expo, boosting economic development but, importantly solidifying its status as a global powerhouse. In fact, the expo is credited with helping Chicago solidify its status as the “second city” behind New York City.


As the expo is the world’s largest gathering of people, much has to be done to accommodate the millions of visitors. To get value for money, it is ideal for any host city to think long-term and regentrify underdeveloped areas and to reuse structures after hosting an expo.

For example, Seattle hosted the 1962 World’s Fair called the Century 21 Exposition. Like large-scale events such as the Olympics, often many host cities will spend money and once the event is done the former site is barely used. However, Seattle saw this as an opportunity to revitalize its downtown. The original fairgrounds in Seattle is now a sprawling park and entertainment complex known as the Seattle Center, which is home to leftover 1962 retro-futuristic attractions – the most famous one being the Space Needle.


Like other large-scale events, an expo can be a make or break, especially if guests are not happy. Vancouver, after hosting Expo 86, showed the world the spirit of Canadian hospitality.

Vancouver had 22 million visitors, impressive as it forecasted only 14 million people. Organizers made customer satisfaction a priority by having a sample 1,000 visitor survey each day to quickly identify problems. What Vancouver credits itself was its priority and shifting the expo to be a full-experience and not just educational and content heavy – in other words for visitors to also have fun. According to the organizer at the time, Jimmy Pattison, the team eventually decided to put money and effort in entertainment and glitz. At the end, the visitor didn’t have to just wait in line and go to a country pavilion as he/she could soak up the atmosphere in the grounds.


Previous expos with their own legacies celebrated something significant in history and educated attendees the theme. Shanghai Expo 2010 had a unique and powerful theme of “Better City – Better Life.” From an article by Mr. Vicente Gonzalez Loscertales, the Secretary-General of the Bureau International of Expositions, he wrote that “Expo 2010 has helped us think ‘holistically’ about future better cities and understand the important role of citizens in improving the quality of the urban environment and society.” Since then others like Milan Expo 2015, whose theme was “Feeding the Planet – Energy for Life”  and of course Dubai with “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future” have messages of sustainability and empowering even the common person to improve our future.

It is also noted that Shanghai, and China as a whole, showcased to the world its emerging powerhouse status; it continues to be the world’s largest with 73 million visitors.

Dubai aims to provide a platform to foster creativity, innovation, and collaboration globally. By looking at some previous successful expos, one can see the legacies some have left. Dubai has caught the world’s attention with not just Expo 2020 but its ambitious record growth and will aim to contribute to the impressive list of other previous successful legacy expos.

And here’s the latest promo video from Dubai Expo 2020, giving you a glimpse on Expos history and its legacy.

What is Expo 2020?

What is #Expo2020? A major milestone for our region, an opportunity to host the world, a catalyst for future-shaping innovations and that's only the beginning.

Posted by Expo 2020 Dubai on Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Richie Santosdiaz is a recent UAE-based economic development expert with a focus on internationalisation in the management consulting space, where he advises governments and multinationals. At present, he sits as an advisor for London-based Pax Tecum Global Consulting – amongst his other current work. He is also an active thought leader in the economic development space. 

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