For the 12 days before and including Labor Day, Minnesotans reconvene at the State Fair. It is traditional and embedded in the culture. It matters here, unlike the fairs in other states I have lived (Maryland, Georgia, California). It is reportedly the best in the United States. The evidence for its centrality is that the University of Minnesota cannot open for classes until after the Fair concludes. The reasoning explains there is some shared parking, and that would involve traffic chaos, but we know it’s the Pronto-Pups.
As Kevin and I write in Planning for Place and Plexus:
Permanent marketplaces were supplemented with temporary and traveling fairs. The first fairs have been dated to 500 BCE, and may have occurred earlier. Fairs were events where foreign traders could show their wares, and were often coupled with religious festivals, taking place at and around temples. The fair changed over many centuries, evolving into several different types of activities, ranging from world to state and county fairs to conventions and trade shows. They are now less a place for purchasing, and more for information exchange. In fact, the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE), which specializes in agricultural events (like State Fairs), itself has an annual convention and trade show in Las Vegas.
Fairs enable mobile customers to meet mobile vendors. We often now think of the fair as a place for entertainment, what the British call a Fun Fair, like Carter’s Steam Fair, or the Midway (or Kidway) at the Minnesota Steam Fair. That fun too is commerce, we exchange bills for thrills.
There is the food. The fair brings foods one does not ordinarily encounter, deep-fried candy-bars on a stick, Scotch eggs, cooked sushi and poutine. Where else can you get ice cream made by a John Deere. Everyone has their go-to places, and the advantage of traveling in a large group is the increased ability to sample a variety.
At the Minnesota State Fair, in addition to every organization getting publicity, there is commerce. Machinery Hill was once the go-to place for farm equipment. There is still farm-equipment, but machinery now includes cars, motorcycles, and ATVs.
My favorite part is looking at gutter-clog prevention technology. Living under the great Minnesota tree canopy (about which more in a future post), my house’s gutters clog semi-annually and need clearing. There are several solutions. The most obvious is to eliminate gutters, but that risks more problems. There is the leaf guard, gutter helmet, leaf relief, etc. all of which have cool demonstrations of water running down shingles into the gutter, while the leaves themselves miss. In reality it is different, if stuff is not accumulating in the gutter, it accumulates on the narrowed entrance to the gutter. Since water droplets are not infinitesimally smaller than other things you are trying to eliminate, the problem is not solvable with just hardware. Let’s just say, I am skeptical, and I am lucky I don’t have a tree growing in my gutters given the rate of accumulation.
The fair is an event city. A temporary city, in miniature, that has all the feature of a permanent full-sized place. There are residents, production, consumption, entertainment, inputs, outputs, economies of agglomeration, specialization, and so on. It comprises public streets over which the pedestrian has precedence. Would the real city were like the fair, and cars dominated streets only on the fairgrounds, only during the classic car show.
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