- You are here:
- › David Concar
David ConcarClimate Change Counsellor, Beijing
If you live in Shanghai at the moment, the Expo is never far from your mind. During my first 18 months living here, there hardly seemed to be a road that wasn’t being excavated, or a park that wasn’t being smartened up, all in anticipation of the big day on May 1. Expo has now been going for a little over two months, and so far it’s a tremendous success. Visitor numbers seem to reach new heights each week, and many of the pavilions are genuinely spectacular.
The theme of Expo is ‘Better City, Better Life’. It’s been interesting to reflect on that theme while watching the city – surely the most dynamic city in the world – grow and evolve before my eyes. What makes a city a good place to live? Are the changes taking place here in Shanghai ahead of Expo making people’s lives better? Undoubtedly many of them are. The metro system has been extended. Formerly industrial areas of the riverfront have been turned into open public spaces. The Expo site itself will become a mixed use development that will hopefully embody the principles of sustainability brought to mind by the Expo theme.
I hope that Shanghai, and city governments across the rest of China (and indeed the wider world), will not make the same mistakes that we have made in the West in planning and building our cities. Some of those mistakes are very hard to undo. Huge amounts of capital get tied up in buildings, making them too expensive to replace. If you build a bad building, you are stuck with it for 50 years. If you build a bad transport system, you’re probably stuck with it for a lot longer. The decisions we make today will affect our ability to live in a sustainable way in the future. At a recent conference I heard a speaker pose the question “are we going to build our cities for cars, or for people?” It’s an important question, and one worth reflecting on next time you are sat in traffic gridlock at rush hour.
The Expo is full of examples of sustainable and environmentally friendly technology. There are electric buses, a large solar power installation, and in the Urban Best Practice Area, you can see sustainable urban developments from around the world. Visitors to Expo can learn a lot about our impact on the environment, and how to reduce it, and that’s great. Just this morning on my walk to work I walked through an Expo Youth Week exhibition in Jing An park. There were billboards about wind power, and other renewable and low carbon technologies. Again, it’s all good for raising awareness. But amongst all the developments currently under construction in Shanghai, few are likely to be anywhere near best practise for energy efficiency and sustainability. So in addition to the disconnect between what is on show at events like Expo, and what is happening just a few kilometres outside the Expo park, there is also a huge opportunity being wasted.
I’m not saying this is just happening in China. It’s happening all over the world including in the UK, EU and US. Where is not important. The point is that if all we do is to showcase these ideas on a tiny scale, while at the same time we lock in high carbon, resource hungry buildings and infrastructure for decades, we’re going to put ourselves firmly on a path to serious resource shortages and dangerous climate change.