China's great world exhibition, the Shanghai Expo 2010, closed its doors this week after giving more than 70 million visitors from China and around the world a fascinating look at the modern challenges of rapid urbanization, climate change and sustainable development, and many interesting glimpses into how our cities will look in coming generations.
UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, meets staff at the UN Pavilion © UN-HABITAT
Shanghai, which spent USD 40 billion on the the Expo - more than double the price tag of the 2008 Beijing Olympics - skillfully used the opening on May 1 to remodel and remake itself as a 21st century gateway to the East. Now the city plans to build a giant international convention centre with modern office and residential blocks to replace the pavilions built by hundreds of countries and companies that turned the Expo into a huge house of wonders.
In a closing ceremony at the United Nations pavilion on Sunday for which UN-HABITAT served as the lead agency, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said its theme – “Better City, Better Life” – was very timely, noting that more than half of the world's people currently live in cities, and that percentage will continue to grow.
“Thanks to this Expo, millions of people learned about possibilities for making our cities healthier and safer – cities that better integrate nature and technology, cities that offer their citizens cleaner air and water, and better lives all around,” he said, adding it offered “hope for tackling the growing challenges of our age of urbanization”.
The Secretary-General, who joined the UN pavillion Commissioner General Awni Behnam at the closing ceremony, noted that cities remain powerful magnets for jobs and economic opportunity, with people flocking to them in hopes of finding a better life. At the same time, today's cities are under enormous pressure, becoming less and less able to cope with the growing number of people moving into them – a matter of concern cited by UN-HABITAT's Executive Director Joan Clos who was also in Shanghai for the occasion.
Mr. Ban said billions of people live in life-threatening conditions, trapped in slums from which they cannot hope to escape, lacking basic amenities from fresh water and sanitation to basic shelter.
“The Shanghai Expo has given us invaluable ideas for tackling these challenges,” Mr. Ban said. “We have seen innovations in construction and new uses of natural resources. We have been reminded of what architects and builders can do to cut energy and water use. We more fully appreciate the importance of mass transit systems. And we understand that special attention must be given to the unique problems of the world's slums.”
He expressed hope that, in all this, China will be an “urban pioneer,” noting that the country is already a frontrunner in addressing the urban slum challenge and in embracing green technologies, renewable energy sources and green business models.
During his visit, Mr. Ban met with the Foreign Minister of China, Yang Jiechi, with whom he discussed a number of matters, including further expanding China-UN cooperation, climate change, non-proliferation, as well as the situations in the Korean peninsula, Myanmar and Sudan.
From Shanghai, the Secretary-General traveled to Nanjing, where he received an honorary doctorate from one of the world's oldest centres of learning. “By honouring me, you are recognizing the critical role of the UN in shaping our modern world, a world that increasingly looks to China,” he told the gathering at Nanjing University.