Expo Axis, Shanghai; photo by KH-wiki-en (source: Wikimedia Commons)

The World Expo in Shanghai, China begins on May 1st and will run until the end of October. With up to 100 million expected visitors, it is set to be the largest World Expo ever.

The theme for Shanghai’s Expo 2010 is ‘Better City, Better Life’. This slogan combines  traditional Chinese philosophy and Western utopian ideals for a development strategy based on a balance between rural and urban life. Better City, Better Life – in conjunction with the branding of Shanghai as a ‘City of Harmony’ – strives to portray an identity where technology, science, economic development, human space and culture exist and thrive in harmony.

At the heart of the Expo is the idea of sustainable development:

The AP reports:

Solar panels in Expo buildings will create a five-megawatt solar power system — China’s largest. Zero-emission electric vehicles will be used on the Expo grounds. Expo organizers say most of the materials used to make the pavilions will be recycled; they have pledged to eventually end with a “carbon-neutral” impact.

Of course much of the old World’s Fair spirit will be on display in Shanghai, albeit with a green twist.

From a report by Xinhua News Agency:

At the exposition, the Russians, who view the event as a “global science and technology contest,” will introduce to the world their breakthroughs in tidal power stations and new nuclear technologies in energy and ecological spheres.

But is Shanghai really a city of harmony?

Development, especially the rapid, headlong development that has characterized China – with Shanghai at its apex – has high environmental and human costs. China’s urban centers are expanding while migrants flood in. Most of the traditional buildings of Shanghai have been torn down and new housing has been put up 10-50 km from the city center to house the millions of new urban workers. This means millions of new commuters and a lot more energy being provided by highly polluting coal plants.

On top of all that, Shanghai – along with other skyscraper-covered Chinese cities – is actually sinking.

“The slogans everywhere say ‘Better City, Better Life’ but where is my better life?” said Zhou Chunrong, a steel worker who was forced from his 172 square foot (16 square meter) apartment. For Zhou and the 18,000 other families forced to move, or anyone else in this country that bans public dissent, the Expo has made no allowances for protests.

–Associated Press

Whether the Expo will live up to the lofty ideals it is portraying is doubtful. I mean… how can it? China has got the development part down, that’s for sure, but despite a few nifty examples, sustainability is a futuristic dream. Then again, that’s kind of what World Expos are all about.

by Graham Land

Additional resources:

Global Times – Sustainable Shanghai Expo doesn’t need Olympic glitz

Expo 2010 Shanghai China official site