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Shanghai Expo features creative look at the future

2010. 16 June

by Michael Geller
( After 10 days at Expo 2010 Shanghai, I have reluctantly returned to Vancouver. Although I was able to visit many of the 242 national, international organizational and corporate pavilions, time did not permit me to visit many others that I wanted to see. I therefore plan to return in the fall.

Sadly, this Expo has not been very well publicized in North America or elsewhere around the world, outside of China.

However, I suspect that as it progresses, more and more people will hear that its exhibitions, events and forums are not to be missed.

With its theme "Better City, Better Life," Expo 2010 will appeal to everyone with an interest in world cities, a fascination with the future and a desire to see global harmony.

At the SAIC-General Motors pavilion, visitors will discover the EN-V or Electric Networked Vehicle of the future. It is designed to alleviate concerns surrounding traffic congestion, parking availability, air quality and affordability. It is also very cute.

The Life Sunshine Pavilion is the first Expo pavilion to showcase the life and talents of the disabled.

The Israel Pavilion describes the country's technological innovations in everything from diesel oil extraction from plants for aviation use, to the computer memory stick. Yes, it was invented in Israel.

The Singapore Pavilion includes images of the past, present and future. I mistakenly thought that a large park cantilevered atop three towers 200 metres in the sky was a proposal for the future. In fact, it has already been completed as part of the new $5.9-billion Sands Casino.

While many pavilions have long lineups, the five theme pavilions had no lineups when I was there. Each has much to offer.

The Pavilion of City Being focuses on the relationship between people and their cities. It includes remarkable films about five world-renowned city plazas, including a touching segment about one that was tragically destroyed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

Creative displays in the Pavilion of Urban Planet show how development and over-development present ecological problems for our planet.

The Pavilion of Footprint looks at the history of cities from their birth to the modern day, and the footprints left by successive civilizations.

The various pavilions showcase the latest in cinematography and video presentations. There are numerous 3-D films and many 4-D productions as well.

In one pavilion every seat has a seat-belt, which has to be fastened. The Saudi Arabia Pavilion, which often experiences lineups of five hours or longer, takes visitors on a ride through its cities and deserts on a conveyor belt, engulfed by video projections on the walls, sloping floors and ceiling. The trip is breathtaking.

Most pavilions cater not only to urbanists, but the public as well, especially children.

A portion of the popular Swedish Pavilion includes a display on that country's history of innovation, a children's playground and an Ikea kitchen. The Swedes also cleverly included a robot that dispenses ping-pong balls to each visitor. (Now why didn't Canada think of that?)

The U.S. Pavilion, a last-minute effort thanks to the generosity of some corporate sponsors, features an entertaining film about a young girl trying to landscape a vacant plot in her neighbourhood.

While I spent 10 days there and still have to return, it is not essential that visitors spend this much time there. A three-day pass will allow sufficient opportunity to gain an appreciation for the ingenuity and creativity of the Chinese planners and the participating countries and organizations. It will also allow time to appreciate how better cities will result in better lives in the future.

Michael Geller is a Vancouver architect and developer.