June 15, 2010

2010 Shanghai World Expo (Shanghai, Day 2)

This is the 2nd post in the Shanghai Journal by guest blogger Renee Toll-DuBois of Earth Our Only Home who recently traveled to Shanghai to attend the World Green Roof Conference and the 2010 World Expo.  All text and photographs courtesy of Renee Toll-DuBois.  The 1st post can be read here.

The beginning of our World Green Roof Conference experience was a trip to the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. The World Expo site is a 5 square kilometre area of former steelworks next to the Huangpo River. Once polluted, it will now become a new district of the city once the Expo is over. See http://en.expo2010.cn.

The Expo spans both sides of the river. This first day we explored the larger expanse that has the majority of country pavilions.We had the chance to hear from one of the organizers responsible for the Expo. he shared with us that the 2010 Shanghai World Expo is the latest in a long line of International Fairs that have their origins in the Great Exhibition of 1851. This has been an enormous undertaking which is bigger than anything before and has more pavilions than any previous event. There are country, region, and city pavilions, 270 in total!

Our Chinese host outlined 3 major themes:
  1. harmony between humans and nature - exemplified in the exphasis of pavilions to model sustainable, low carbon development, the greening of cities, and the overall theme of the Expo: Better cities, better livin as well as the work done on the riverbank, on cleaning up the river, and restoring what we would define as a brownfield into a riverside park.
  2. harmony between people exemplified in the range of countries invited and participating in the Expo that included, if I understood correctly, countries with whom the PRC does not have formal diplomatic relations!
  3. harmony between past, present, and future - exemplified by the emphasis on paying tribute and maintaining elements, especially cultural ties to the past while transforming the present into a new and better future.
Author posing with mascot
The event has cost China more than the Olympics and the organisers expect to have more than 70 million visitors this summer. They have designed a mascot called Seababy that is everywhere in evidence throughout Shanghai.

Our two busloads disembarked at the group gate parking area, a giant roofed area designed to handle the incredible volume of daily visitors, many thousands of people. As one of the sustainable features, visitors can arrive either by subway - they extended a line directly into the Expo - or by bus, as we did. While a person can physically bicycle into the grounds, there are no places to securely lock your bike, so there are some limitations. There are no individual vehicle parking areas that I was aware of, so people need to either come by bus or by metro.

While the cattle like queuing was a bit frustrating, it did keep things moving in a well-organized fashion, especially for the security check that each visitor undergoes. Much like an airport, we walked through a doorway that beeps with any metal, our person may be "swept" by a hand-held device, and bags are sent through the xray machine. They were looking not only for explosives etc but also remarkably for any bottles of water (remember we drank only bottled water) as there are concessions within the Expo Park and we were not to bring in any water ourselves!

France: Interior living wall courtyard
I made it to only eight pavilions today, prioritizing those with green roofs, living walls as indicated in the promotional literature. (Read Dr. Karen Weber's February, 2010 article, International Summit in Shanghai: The Green Roof Solution to the Impending Drinking Water Crisis in India, Western China and Neighboring Countries to see some of those early schematics) These include: India, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, and I had hoped to visit Saudi Arabia but it was a three hour wait!! I also stopped in to the African and Oceania regional pavilions, as well as the New Zealand pavilion. I saw the Theme Pavilion focused on urban living that sports a 500square meters green wall, and heard numerous reports from the improved riverside area that has a linear park and restored and improved water's edge that will resist flooding.

I do think that the number of green roofs and living walls as well as other ecological planting and restoration components can be seen as a sign of how these features are now recognised as key components of the sustainable, healthy, future green city.

In my opinion as a lay person and newcomer to the world of green roofs and living walls, I would say that many of the green roofs or living walls were not so very impressive with the exception of India, Switzerland that I visited - but they do indicate that this design component is beginning to gain general acceptance in many areas of the world. As I said I saw only a limited few and may have missed others, even certain features in the pavilions I did visit, as a lay person, however I commend the Chinese for choosing the theme that would prioritize including green features and energy saving and efficient elements into the design of the pavilions.

Not all pavilions had elements that were obvious or even real - the Saudi palms on the roof are plastic for instance ! but the public does not visit there so the dramatic pavilion puting trees on a roof likely will remain in your mind. In fact many pavilions may not have had any elements but all were to in some way address the theme of better cities, better living.

Luxembourg was very pleasant, using planters in parallel rows along the walls to bring you in. France had a living interior, courtyard walls we gazed at from within the exhibits, but I did not see the green living roof that the promotional drawing suggested.

Switzerland I waited to see nearly two hours in the sun among the sea of parasols and it was well-worth the wait as it offered a series of answers to the question of what makes a better city and better living, with images of different places in Switzerland complemented by a chair lift ride up through a living cylinder out onto and over a luxuriant green roof meadow of grass and wildflowers and a spectacular view across the river. I learned from Gary Grant, ecologist from the UK who works with livingroofs.org (see his blog) that Switzerland now mandates green roofs must provide habitat for two specific endangered butterflies! .

The Expo grounds are extensively planted, using many eco-friendly products such as porous concrete paving blocks.The climate is semi-tropical it seemed which explained the wrapping of the newly planted trees in rope and burlap, to protect them from scorching. The extensive pruning done, which I also saw in the city proper is apparently learned from the Japanese and the trees seem to thrive.

It was the India pavilion that most impressed me. As we zigzagged around the building during our 1+hr wait, we had an up close view of their living walls, tri-color bands of plants that appeared to be new Guinea Impatiens, dusty miller and another very familiar plant. I have no idea where all the plants we saw came from and who is the grower, distributor and the extent to which they are native, imported, etc. We also had a chance to see the living roof up close which I quite enjoyed for its design and beauty as well as practicality. You may be able to see the wind turbine at the top of the building. 

The pavilion was designed as a two-story structure with an inner courtyard that housed a performance stage and various commercial booths. The upper level housed a space that displayed artifacts and exhibits about the culture and history. I learned for instance that India has had at least two astronauts! This exhibit area culminated in a viewing area where a holographic computer generated image was projected and suspended in air in the darkness and swirling colors changed and evolved providing viewers a marvelous show through time of culture, history and technology, impressive even without being able to understand the Chinese narration! Definitely a wonderful combination of experiences to absorb!

Another favorite was the New Zealand pavilion that included an outdoor space providing visitors an experience of different features. This included a rooftop vegetable garden, living roof, and mature tree.

Sri Lanka's pavilion had two gem cutters using traditional person-powered technology, performance space, and highlighted both their Buddhist tradition as well as their many World Heritage locations.

The African and Oceania regional pavilions were fantastic. The light was too low for my camera to capture the richness available that shared traditional culture and the modern commercial export interests, tourism, and other successes and achievements, including the Green Belt movement originating in Kenya of Nobel Peace prize winner, Wangari Maathai.

I was treated to performances of the traditional Haka warrior dance, other oceanic dances, East African drummers and dancers, Malaysian and Chinese singers as the afternoon turned to evening and I returned to the bus and our hotel.

Ho Wan Weng, managing director, ZinCo Singapore Pte Ltd, invited me and Karen and his colleague, Dr. Tan Puay Yok, Vice Director, Centre for Urban Greenery and Ecology in Singapore, out to a marvelous Chinese restaurant in the "thumb" district, known for the sculpture outside the plaza of two hands whose thumbs are quite prominent. We feasted on an extensive array of both vegetarian and meat dishes, many of them typical to Shanghai and the region, as both men were knowledgeable and frequent visitors to Shanghai, China's long-time commercial and financial center.

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