World Expo 2010 in Shanghai

Two cars collide in Xi’an. Not an uncommon occurrence in a city of eight million, lacking the providence of traffic lights on every street. Rather than display a Dutch civility when butting up against their neighbors, Xi’an drivers refuse to give way. And so do subsequent drivers, all piling into this intersection. Instead of having the foresight to back up, thus relieving the maelstrom, all just inched forward, locking the Chinese puzzle ever more tightly. The future of our cities is running headlong toward this urban juggernaut, or else the wizards of urban planning will find solutions. And to that end usher the dazzling lights of the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai.

This latest incarnation of the World’s Fair or World Exposition is the largest yet realized and the first to be built in a developing country since the fair began in 1851. Expo 2010 involves the participation of more than 200 countries and regions, and by closing day on October 31st, will have seen 70 million visitors. With the theme “Better City, Better Life,” the expo uses themed, corporate, and national pavilions to relay its message of a brighter, greener future just around the corner.

The 1939 fair in New York City envisaged vast suburbs connected by superhighways, and homes getting information from a new invention, television. These came to pass, as did other inventions showcased at fairs, namely escalators and moving walkways, in use in the Saudi Arabian Pavilion at this expo.

Considering the times, we cannot plan for brighter cities without being in sync with the environment. Indeed, the expo sets a good example with solar technology and the rehab of the Nanshi Power Plant for one pavilion. It is also respectable that Urban Planet, one of five themed pavilions most demonstrative of sound urban practices, presents both cogent arguments against water and mineral depletion (a giant tank of water with faucets representing the use per person, per day of developed and developing nations) and solutions, such as showcasing Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, a zero C02 emission city.

The event fails to make a complete case. One pavilion promotes a balance between the environment and fortune acquisition. The former has its roots in China in Buddhism, while the latter is an entrenched Chinese mindset. Compatible? Probably not, as the Oil Pavilion may convince the layman that the slimy stuff is inseparable from our lives, yet the same layman may return to Xi’an or Beijing to find proper breathing a questionable enterprise from horrific smog.

What is most successful here is the way planners have taken mundane topics, such as the state electric power industry, and turned them lyrical. State Grid Pavilion is a cube wherein projected images of stylized power surge over a grid; surges even become cranes, a Chinese symbol of longevity.

What is more impressive is how even minuscule nations are not shunted to the far corners of the three national display zones, but stand proudly with their larger cousins (Serbia near Spain). As “It’s a Small World” did for global understanding in the 1964 New York World’s Fair, we can all learn from one another in the search for greener solutions.