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Expo 2010: The Urban Best Practice Area in Review July 13, 2010

Posted by Andrew Broderick in China, Graduate, Individual Fellowship, Taiwan.
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Over 70 cities from around the world are exhibiting their “urban best practice” at Expo 2010. This area of the Expo accounts for less than one-fifth of the total area of the Expo grounds, yet I spent a day and half here exploring and researching each city’s display. The Expo did a very good job introducing a diversity of cities ranging from Zurich to Makkah (Mecca).

Expo 2010: Urban Best Practice Area

With the title "Harmonious Water, Harmonious Guangzhou," the city of 14 million people in southern China focuses its exhibit on its recent efforts to reduce water pollution in the Pearl River Delta.

What I found was a vast range of interpretations on a relatively loose theme. What “best practice” actually means varies from city to city, as the spectrum spanned from social entrepreneurship to waste management to wireless infrastructure with everything in between.

What I was looking for was innovation, cities that are blazing the trail in a new direction. We paid especially close attention to the exhibits for Chinese and Taiwanese cities that we will be traveling to during this trip (Suzhou, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Taipei).

Finally, I critiqued exhibit designs based on the interdependency of style and substance. Overall I was impressed by the vast range of cities and ideas on display, and I found that there are cities in other parts of the world that U.S. cities can learn from. (San Diego was the lone representative for U.S. cities, while Canada had two – Montreal and Vancouver). There are some excellent ideas in theory and practice out there.

However, I also found that in many cases style trumped substance to the point that exhibits were going for the quick “wow” point (think flashing lights, 3-D videos, water features) or blatantly and overtly fashioning their “best practice” as nothing more than tourist marketing (“See you in Rotterdam!” or “Come to Liverpool!”).  At points I felt a bit dismayed, but I must remind myself that I am not the typical audience for an expo. As an urban planning student, I viewed all exhibits with a critical and interested eye–going beyond the average tourist. Having said that, the Urban Best Practice Area was a very positive experience, and I hope that the Expo’s efforts to educate and initiate a dialogue about the importance of urban innovation to solve complex urban problems reached the average visitor in addition to me. The following is a review of what I liked and disliked.

Excellent Exhibits, substance matches style:

Hong Kong – “Smart Card, Smart City, Smart Life”

Style matched substance at this excellent exhibit. The exhibit is a large square box lined with floor to ceiling LED screens on the outside and interactive flat screens and a circular video screen on the inside. The exhibit features Hong Kong’s “smart card” and radio frequency identification device (RFID) technology. Both devices maximize efficiency and effectiveness of movement in the city whether it be a tourist riding the bus or a truck driver picking up freight.

Urban Best Practice Area: Hong Kong Exhibit

Large, interactive LCD screens inside the Hong Kong Exhibit educate and entertain visitors about Hong Kong's use of smart card and radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. Both technologies increase efficiency, speed of travel, and communication for multiple activities in the city.

Hong Kong’s smart card maximizes efficiency in several ways. It can be used to access all modes of public transportation. Imagine using the same card to take the subway, bus, ferry, taxi, regional train. It can also be used as a library card, book tickets for entertainment, and it can be used at convenience stores. The exhibit described it as an “electronic purse.”

RFID technology can be used to control entire trucking and shipping systems or to streamline airfreight. It can also be used for food safety measures, immigration control, and to tag air traveler’s luggage. It is very, very cool stuff.

Sao Paulo – “Clean City, Better Life”

This exhibit documents the story of the city’s program to rid buildings of visual advertising, which cluttered the cityscape.

Shenzhen – “Story of a Village”

This exhibit documents the incredible growth of this city since 1980. The display won us over with it’s excellent integration of subject matter and design.

Montreal – “From Wastescape to Urban Landscape: Converting a quarry into an urban park”

This exhibit tells the story of the city’s efforts to turn an old rock quarry into an urban park in a neighborhood in northeast Montreal.  It is an excellent story and beautiful pavilion. (See their exhibit.)

Makkah (Mecca), Saudi Arabia – “Mina Tent City”

This exhibit profiles the efforts the Saudi government took to build an incredible amount of infrastructure to host millions of Muslim pilgrims who visit the city every year for Hajj and Omra. The Tent City is a very dense area, and the government’s provision of infrastructure for the pilgrims is an amazing feat.

Very Good Exhibits, substance matches style:

Taipei – “Zero Landfill Program” and “Wireless Taipei”

Venice – “Regional Infrastructures for the Future”

Guangzhou – “Harmonious Water, Harmonious Guangzhou”

Hangzhou – “Connection to Five Waters”

Malmo, Sweden – “Sustainable Development in the Western Harbor”

Basel-Geneva-Zurich – “Better Water, Better City”

Case Study Exhibits: This is a list of exhibits that I will develop into case studies and make into a small book as part of my research.

Intensive Cases (cities I will visit while in China and Taiwan and develop into an in-depth case study)

Suzhou – Historic preservation of city core

Hangzhou – Connection to five waters (wetland, canal, river, lake, sea)

Guangzhou – “Harmonious Water, Harmonious Guangzhou” -connection to water system

Hong Kong – Smart card and RFID system

Taipei I – Zero Landfill initiative

Taipei II – Wireless Taipei

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