We may not have heard much about it but the Shanghai 2010 Expo is nearly upon us. Costing an estimated US$45bn and covering an area of 35 acres the Expo is said by China to rival the Beijing Olympics as an extravaganza according to the Telegraph. Certainly in terms of cost and participants it will exceed the Olympics. Some 70 million visitors are expected to attend over the 6 months the Expo is open from May to October and marvel at the cutting edge environmentally sustainable architecture, displays and experiences being built. Being built is one of the problems. Unlike the Olympics, the Chinese are relying on some 240 participating countries to build the 100 odd pavilions, and they are late. Or at least something like 20% of them may not be completed by the time the show opens. Not that a 100% completion is expected. At the Hanover Expo in 2000 some 10% of the exhibits were not completed when the show opened but the Chinese will take it as a loss of face to open with construction workers still on-site.
Not surprisingly, in the decade of all things green, environmental sustainability is a big deal at the Shanghai Expo, so much so that the UN Environment Program has produced a 146 page environmental assessment report which we won’t go into here beyond saying the one issue the UNEP report does not cover and the Chinese are strangely vague about is what is going to happen to 52 of the 56 “permanent buildings once the show is finished. The authorities are quite clear that although the buildings are consuming thousands of tons of steel, concrete and various other materials, only the four main Chinese buildings are going to be left standing at the end (the rest have to be razed to the ground). That does not sound very green although it will be providing a welcome boost for metals consumption in the greater Shanghai area supplemented by massive public works, repaving every street, painting every building and adding several new lines to a metro system that didn’t exist 15 years ago but now rivals London’s in size and is infinitely more modern.
Our good friend Richard Brubaker Founder and Managing Director of China Strategic Development Partners and writer of the blog All Roads Lead to China, is quoted in a NPR Radio Station website as raising this very issue. By virtue of his position as a teacher at the China Europe Business School, Richard tasked his students with finding out what will happen to the thousands of tons of materials used in the construction program. After three months of investigative effort, the students have turned up virtually nothing. It would appear little or no consideration was given to what would happen to the buildings, where the waste would be taken, if any could be recycled or indeed whether they really needed to be pulled down at all. For an Expo that has gone to such pains to extol the virtues of a green future this seems like an amazing failure or cynically we ask is it an indication of how seriously green issues are really being taken. If nothing else, the Expo has been the stimulus for clearing the 5.28 sq km industrial area along the banks of the Huangpu River, previously home to 272 factories in the area, mostly outdated and heavily polluting. They were a mosaic of power plants, steel refineries, chemical industries, mechanical workshops and shipping manufacturers according to an article of Richard’s. As an example of urban renewal, it is exemplary but more forethought to what the area would be used for post Expo could have left Shanghai with many imaginative, low energy consuming, environmentally sustainable buildings that could be used for university campus, business parks, libraries or other public buildings. Maybe the Chinese can’t resist the temptation to rebuild yet again.