Friday, June 11, 2010

Shanghai’s World Expo hopes to transform the way we live

Below is my first blog posting from Shanghai that the Vancouver Sun kindly published in its Issues and Ideas section:

SHANGHAI — Since the “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations” held in London in 1851, World Fairs have been organized to showcase the latest products, technologies and ideas to the rest of the world. Previous Fairs have focused on energy, light, Space Travel, and earthly transportation. They have introduced such innovations as the light bulb, the elevator, talking pictures, television and the ice cream cone. The theme of the Shanghai World Expo now taking place until October 31, 2010 is Better City, Better Life. By choosing the ‘city’ concept as its theme, the organizers are hoping to address the global trend of urbanization.

The fair is doing this with displays by 242 countries and organizations. There are also five major theme pavilions: Urbanian, City Being, Urban Planet, Footprint and Future. There are also large scale ‘Built Case Studies’ exhibited in the 15 hectare Best Practices Area, where visitors can experience better urban life in the future. These case studies include a solar wall in Alsace; a living water park in Chengdu; an innovative Hamburg building that requires no heating or cooling; BedZed, the highly publicized English Zero Carbon Community; and Vancouver’s Legacies and the Livable City.

In the eight years since Shanghai was awarded the 2010 World Expo, many parts of the city have been transformed. Elevated roadways have been upgraded and planted with drought tolerant materials. Ever changing colourful illuminations are displayed at night. Now here is an idea for our viaducts and SkyTrain pylons.

While I had high expectations, I have not been disappointed. Many of the international designs are outstanding, including the Czech Pavilion that features a map of the old town of Prague fashioned from…63,415 black rubber ice-hockey pucks. The Canada Pavilion, conceive by Cirque Soleil, is shaped like a large letter ‘C’ and covered in large part in…what else… wood. The Japanese Pavilion has a pink luminescent membrane with solar cells, allowing it to become an eco friendly Breathing Organism. The popular UK Pavilion looks like a porcupine or dandelion about to go to seed, with 60,000 crystalline spines that are tipped with tiny lights. Other fascinating pavilions include the Spanish pavilion which is finished in wicker panels, and the multicolored Korean Pavilion decorated with Hangeul and art pixels.

Wandering around the grounds on my first days I was surprised and disappointed at how few ‘foreigners’ are about. Despite participation by so many foreign countries, I was often the only Caucasian person visiting a pavilion or enjoying a restaurant. This is unfortunate since the displays are geared to both domestic and foreign visitors and English is used throughout the site.

The signage and visitor facilities are excellent. There are plenty of attractive, clean toilets and fresh water filling stations to allow you to fill your water bottles, provided they were emptied when you went through security.

Over the coming weeks I will share some of my Expo highlights, with a particular focus on those ideas that might have direct application to Metro Vancouver. I will also offer some ideas from Shanghai city, such as the colourful outdoor exercise equipment that is scattered about for use by adults and seniors. Now why don’t we do that?

After our highly successful Vancouver 2010 Olympics, it is now China’s turn to again show the world how it is being transformed. Since the fair continues until the end of October, I would urge you to buy tickets now. But if you cannot attend, you can enjoy Expo Shanghai Online, another innovation for a World Expo. It can be found at


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