Drawing from the traditions of the Chautauqua, the County Fair, and the Industrial Trade Show, CityFair emphasized small-scale, decentralized solutions to the complicated problems of urban life. It included more than 90 exhibits, set up as a “mini-city” at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall, demonstrating simple tools to save energy, reduce pollution, and cut the cost of food, health care, and housing. Fair-goers also were invited to tour 14 neighborhood projects, from self-help housing to recycling centers to solar greenhouses, to see how they worked.
As a “country fair for city folks,” CityFair mixed education, entertainment, and politics. Several nationally known speakers, including civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson and political scientist Leslie Lipson, gave public lectures on the theme of self-reliance. There were plays, puppet shows, dances, and concerts. Among the performers were singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester and jazz-pop-folk singer Maria Muldaur. “Cynicism is passé,” Winchester commented. “I don’t think Congress can pass any laws that can solve the problems. We have to do it ourselves” (CityFair Guide).
More than 40,000 people attended the event; about the same number attended a second CityFair, held from July 3 to 13, 1982. After that, CityFair fell victim to cutbacks in government funding. Ironically, an event created to promote and celebrate self-sufficiency was not able to sustain itself without public subsidies.