I have been waiting for this week to arrive for a very long time. With only 5 days to go before the start of one of the greatest shows on earth (the other one being the FIFA World Cup, of course), the city of Shanghai, and indeed the whole of China, is going to be at the centre of the world's attention for the next 6 months.
World Expositions have traditionally, since the first fair in London in 1851, served as a showcase for the ages of industrialization and globalization. Nation branding has emerged in the last twenty years. The Shanghai World Expo will undoubtedly supply these functions. But it will also signal the new age of cities, with the first universal exposition focused on cities. No city more symbolizes the new urban age than Shanghai. The theme, “Better City, Better Life,” culminates millennia of human imagination about the better city. In Shanghai the challenge of how to create a low carbon footprint, a largely self-sustaining urban environment, will be explored in detail.
Everything about the Shanghai World Expo, which runs from May 1-October 31, is supersized- and that is everything from the food, the buildings, the roads, the designs and the vibrant events that would be put on show. This Expo can be classed as the Olympics of architectural design. There are 200 pavilions from countries, Chinese cities, various international organizations and corporations. Seventy million people and 400,000 daily are expected to attend- the vast majority of them are anticipated to be Chinese nationals. The Expo, spread across both sides of the Huangpu River, in both the old Puxi and new Pudong, required 30,000 workers and now utilizes 70,000 volunteers. An estimated 100 cultural events are planned daily, totaling 20,000 through the end of October. Various conferences on urbanization will occur. The size and extent of the security operation has not been disclosed, but the entire city, not just the Expo area, has been placed on lock down. There will be many in China who will be unwilling or unable to attend the Expo. Therefore the government has created the first virtual Expo, which will reach 100 million people.
Preparations for the Expo included a vast scheme of urban modernization. Shanghai has doubled the subway lines, built a new airport terminal, renovated the historic Bund waterfront, and launched a promotional campaign with the blue mascot and various media that has reached into every corner of the city. No other country has the ability or will to undertake such a mass campaign. The Shanghai government has given every resident one free ticket and travel money to insure families attend.
Beyond the unending superlatives and complaints about crowds, the Expo will achieve three important objectives. First, is to bring hundreds of millions of Chinese into the modern world, by bringing the modern world to them. China will achieve in six months what could have taken decades to achieve anywhere else in the world. Second, the Expo will provide the most important examination of urban life ever assembled in our lifetime (well, in my lifetime anyways!). The Urban Best Practices area will display real space sustainable projects on buildings, roads, public space and infrastructure. And finally, the Expo will significantly strengthen the national commitment to low carbon development. This, for sure, will bring the issue of green house gases on the agenda at most of the press conferences that will happen throughout the duration of the expo.
The signature pavilion of the Expo is the Chinese red “oriental crown” Pavilion, almost three times taller than any other structure. It is a statement to the Chinese people, and anyone else who has not yet figured it out, of where China stands in the world. On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong declared to the people of China, “The Chinese people have stood up”. On Opening Day, May 1, 2010, this is proclaimed to the world. Below are some of the photos I took on a recent VIP tour of the expo prior to its opening:
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