More than 70 million people visited the Shanghai 2010 World Expo, which closed on Sunday, a new record for the number of visitors to an expo. Yet, rather than this record, the ideas it presented for cities and urban life should be its greatest heritage to both the host city and country.
The real significance of this expo lies in the opportunities it has provided for the millions of visitors to consider what would make for a better city and what should be the criteria to improve city life.
In this sense, the theme of the Shanghai Expo, "Better City, Better Life", should not end with its closing. Rather urban planners of both the central and local governments should bear it in mind for a long time to come as they renew their concept of cities.
Never has China witnessed such a high rate of urbanization as in the past three decades. Construction of skyscrapers and high-rise buildings, wider streets and huge squares have changed the look of almost all its cities. But the ever-larger construction projects testify to the fact that many Chinese urban planners have yet to understand urbanization in a sustainable sense. Making everything bigger, higher and wider seems to have become the defining motivation for our cities.
Urbanization will continue at an unprecedented speed and scale. The country has adopted it as the way to further modernize itself and improve the livelihood of its residents.
However, in the past three decades more than 200 million rural villagers have moved into urban areas. More villagers are expected to make their homes in cities in the next couple of decades. All cities will face the problem of further expansion.
At this juncture, finding the best realization of a better city and better urban life is of utmost importance to the future of this country and to the well-being of its people.
This is why the heritage and spirit of the Shanghai Expo should remain as a source of inspiration for the country's sustainable urbanization in the years to come.
There were many examples demonstrating how rainwater can be preserved and used to water flowers and lawns, how recycled construction materials can be used to keep houses warm in winter and cool in summer, and how household garbage can be recycled to reduce the amount of refuse we produced. These and other examples can be emulated without much difficulty.
A change of economic development model has been emphasized as one of the major tasks for the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015). Among all the targets, one of the most important is the creating of an energy-saving and environmentally friendly society.
The Shanghai Expo undoubtedly provided a lot of examples that Chinese urban planners and policymakers can draw on in order to make better policies for sustainable urban development. Urban diseases such as air pollution, the covering of all available space by concrete so that there is no way for rainwater to sink back into the earth, and densely built residential buildings that prevent residents enjoying enough sunshine have compromised the quality of urban life.
A lack of consideration for sustainability and the interests of urban residents is the root cause of all these woes.
The new concepts for cities and city life exhibited at the Shanghai Expo sends the message that the urbanization process does not necessarily have to bring about such aforementioned urban blights. As long as we move in the right direction, urban development can be environmentally friendly in many ways.
If this is one of the major messages that the Shanghai Expo has delivered to the visitors and the entire nation, the long-term benefit this country gained from this world event is priceless.