Chimneys were, for a short period of time, the symbols of industrialization and urbanization. They were soon reduced to symbols of pollution and backwardness. But today the site of a chimney at the World Expo's Urban Best Practices Area (UBPA) in Shanghai is still a place to marvel.
The 165-meter chimney of a once coal-fired power plant is now a city sightseeing tower attracting tens of thousands of visitors every day. More than that, the whole plant, once a major source of urban pollution, has been transformed into a harbinger of a future city whose scientific advancements will render chimneys' past uses a distant memory. The dramatic overhaul conveys the message clearly the UBPA itself is an experiment in all the potential of urban life.
The UBPA, covering 15 hectares or 3 percent of the Expo site, displays 80 compelling exhibitions of how people have explored making their lives better and safer. It is hailed as the highlight of the Expo. The area simulates the lifestyle of a future urban settlement. Visitors can have a peep at how people will live, work, travel and enjoy their leisure in the future. They also see exemplary urban practices amid dense habitation, and the mitigation of environmental problems now headaches for all of us.
With the themes of Livable City, Sustainable Urbanization, Protection and Utilization of Historical Heritage, and Technological Innovation in the Built Environment, many of the best urban practices were previous isolated real-life experiments that have been modified and rolled out.
London's UBPA site adapts itself to the climate of Shanghai and uses local products to realize zero emissions of carbon dioxide and reduction of demands for energy. Madrid's "Air Tree," an exhibition hall constructed of recyclable materials, generates enough power from the sun for the building's daily use. The "24-hour Sun newspaper headquarters" of Milan is installed with window blinds that use sustainable materials and technology, which can open and close automatically and collect energy by methods that adapt to the season.
From the function and performance of these presentations, we see responsibility, wisdom and innovation for future urban life are well embodied in the UBPA. What we see and experience in the UBPA today may turn out to be general reality tomorrow. More importantly, it will inspire more ideas on urban development and management. Through real-life experimentation, technological breakthroughs and innovation, urban life will become more appealing in the future.
The chimney in Shanghai, along with other areas of the UBPA, will be largely preserved after the World Expo's final curtain falls later this year. One day, it may turn out to be something beyond today's imaginings.