Zhang Song: China’s Urban Disease (1)

China Dialogue translates an interview in Southern Metropolis Daily with urban preservation expert Zhang Song about the Expo and its impact on the city:

Zhang Chuanwen: For the first time, the theme of the World Expo is “the city”. What does that signify for China?

Zhang Song: China needs to pull together the mistakes made and lessons learned from building cities and look at advanced practices in foreign countries. The Expo has many showy buildings, but it doesn’t seem like any of them will become classics. The former dean of CAUP, Wu Zhiqiang, was the chief planner for the Expo, and at the start of planning proposed a focus on the city rather than landmark buildings.

His proposal for the Expo was to create an “eco-positive” urban concept focused on purifying water, producing energy, increasing greenery and reducing temperatures. Buildings, spaces and landscaping would demonstrate this concept and, at the same time, showcase the latest methods of reducing urban energy and resource consumption. But given the time available for construction, I’m afraid it wasn’t easy to achieve this ideal. Maybe some buildings used some sustainable technology, some energy-saving materials, but the Expo is huge and limited by available funds and technology. So there was a big gap between the original plan and the actual outcome.

The site of the Expo was originally home to hundreds of thousands of square metres of factory space. If that had been made full use of, perhaps things would have been simpler, or have better embodied environmental principles. But, while a few old buildings were kept, the majority were demolished. Outside of China, a huge proportion of large cultural facilities are housed in old buildings. Paris’s bid for the 2008 Olympics included plans to remodel old factories as stadiums.