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World Expo, again (Shanghai, Day 4)

This is the 4th 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.  Previous posts can be read here (day 3), here (day 2), and here (day 1).

Back to the Shanghai World Expo today in our two busloads of conference attendees, this time to the other side of the river, to see the pavilions in the neighborhood, pavilions that represent regions and cities.

Apparently, according to the speaker about the Expo, this neighborhood had been a slum of migrants come in from the rural areas in search of a better life and more economic opportunity. People lived in makeshift shacks and the standard of living was atrocious. He indicated that as preparation for the Expo, the neighborhood residents were relocated and provided housing in another district and given either some money or perhaps jobs, I do not recall and my notes are not clear but a means by which to get established. If this is true, it seems a positive thing but there is always more to such a story!

Additionally, residents of the surrounding neighborhood have all been given free passes to the Expo good for the entire six months so they can come and go to the park for free and of course so they can come and go to their homes which sometimes lie within the gates and grounds of the Expo!

This portion of the Expo houses futuristic homes as well as the zero-carbon building, our first stop. The ZED factor zero carbon pavilion showcases the work of BedZED. The key concept here is a building and or community that produces and stores more energy than it uses. The building is designed to capture wind through turbines, solar, use biomass for fuel from human and food - and potentially animal waste as well as algae grown in fish pools and tubing on site, purify its own water using a biological filtration system I saw described as operating by a US group, RUST in Austin Texas. Really amazing and something I want to experience even more.

This example at the Expo is similar in look, with perhaps more stainless steel than the actual buildings in operation in Beddington, according to Gary Gran, a delegate from the UK. He comments in his blog at that the green roof element constructed from modular steel trays in this Shanghai example is a sedum mat in Beddington. For those well-informed on green roofs this undermined the exhibit's effectiveness as did the rainwater flowing underneath the planted trays with tell-take irrigation lines rather than the sustainable drainage in the "real" one. This makes the pavilion more a show than a demonstration which is disappointing but we did not have insider information about why the difference and what constraints the builders faced. Within the building there were plastic plants for instance inside rather than real and other frustrations for us but the concepts are real as they are being implemented in England at this time.

A second exciting pavilion was Alsace as it also demonstrated and had pictures of ecologically sustainable dwellings. The pavilion itself was eye-catching with half its outer wall a cascading sheet of water behind a wall of plate glass and solar arrays and the other a multi-colored green wall of plants and flowers, again planted in trays and racks but nonetheless eye-catching. Within, the system was explained as having a hinged outer wall allowing the solar PV to adjust and track the sun and then between the two walls a wall of air that would heat and in summer be vented out and in winter redirected into the dwelling to help with heating. The interior wall then is the sheeting water whose purpose was less well explained in the French and Mandarin signage but seemed to help with maintaining a stable temperature. The design is in operation in several high schools apparently and the pump is hydraulic requiring no input of energy. Additionally we saw photos of many other neighborhoods and projects in the region, from Mulhouse and Strassbourg.

close-up of Alsace living wall
Overall, I must say that I grew quite disappointed in how far behind the US appears to be in embracing green design that is sustainable, local, and uses sources of energy capture for self-sufficiency rather than as a full scale system that needs a market and infrastructure. More of us can be doing it for ourselves, as individuals and as communities and decreasing the need for materials related to creating systems and infrastructure. The USA Pavilion did almost nothing at showcasing the examples we do have in our country, very disappointing.

We next refreshed ourselves with some delicious green tea at the Wetland Park to Purify Water in Chendu, sitting in a very pleasant garden reminiscent of what I think of as a Japanese garden with bridges and rises and shaped trees and walkways. The other pavilion we visited included an exhibit from Montreal that focused on a giant landfill that has been capped and transformed effectively into a major urban park - and home to Cirque du Soleil. They had a pictorial history, interactive exhibits and a scale model that informed people of the different layers and materials used, the on-going environmental monitoring and the current recycling center that operates along with the bicycle rental and general park activities of this well-loved new environmental resource.

After a visit to a Chinese provincial pavilion where we enjoyed a performance of dance and music, saw traditional crafts and a promotional video that was explicit about the rich cultural diversity their city enjoyed and inviting you to come become part of this wonderful green city, we had our picture taken, at their invitation, with the dancers before regrouping with others from our conference at the Pavilion of the Footprint, an enormous theme pavilion. It is a vast museum-like building that traces and brings to life past history. They have recreated ancient Chinese murals found in caves, the Gate of Ishtar. They have a simulation of the rise and fall of a Sumerian city in the desert. The cities of Michaelangelo and ancient China are recreateed complete with sculptures and interactive videos. A pavilion to the cities of the past that reaches into the present.

We also visited the Pavilion of Future Life where robots were the theme - one to care for your children four and younger and teach them to sing, dance and get along with others; a robot to help you with banking and other household duties; a robot to assist elderly and disabled people into and out of bed, the toilet, getting around. This last was the one I thought most useful, although as a friend pointed out, it is great until the robot malfunctions and then you are trapped in a nightmare. They had an incredibly pwoerful message on water conservation that states priorities I think we would do well to consider and embrace.

The day flew by and it was time to return back to the hotel and some rest before our tours of green roofs the next day.