by Al Campbell
VANCOUVER, April 30 (PNA/Xinhua) — At just over 200 square meters, the Vancouver pavilion is nowhere near as grand or flash as the country pavilions or other exhibits displayed at the Shanghai World Expo, but the tale and message it is trying to convey is truly one of sustainability and what can be achieved in improving a city and the lives of its citizens.
In a recent exclusive interview, Vancouver city planner Brent Toderian described to Xinhua in a modest manner the Vancouver pavilion which will open on Saturday at the Shanghai World Expo.
Fresh from its successful hosting of the Winter Olympics in February and the Paralympics the month following, the high profile of the Games gave the world a close-up look into how Vancouverites live in a city that is consistently ranked as one of the best for livability.
Yet, for all the accolades lauded on the Canadian west coast city, this wasn't the case 35 years ago. As a relative provincial backwater at the time where the main industries were forestry and fisheries, the False Creek area which borders downtown Vancouver was a hive of industrial activity that subsequently polluted the city core and the surrounding waters.
The advent of the city's hosting of Expo '86 changed things for the better as the industrial activity was eliminated or moved to other areas, the visible pollution was drastically decreased, and the site today has been radically transformed into a beautiful residential waterfront area now home to thousands.
Without blowing its horn too much, as is the modest Canadian style, the Vancouver Pavilion situated among the Urban Best Practices pavilions in Zone E, east of Expo Boulevard in Puxi, is aiming to share its story of urban development under a theme of " Legacies in the livable city, Vancouver from the World's Fair to Winter Games."
In a period that covers 1986 to present day, Toderian told Xinhua, the exhibit was essentially two pavilions in one with the ground floor profiling Vancouver's continuing efforts to become a green, livable city, and the upper floor showcasing British Columbia iconic wood products, practices and technologies.
Walking into the stylish 1.98-million-Canadian-dollar pavilion made of B.C. timber exposed with glass to demonstrate the versatility of wood — affordability, thermal insulation, seismic stability and energy efficiency being the prime attractions — the journey begins with an orientation video in Mandarin and English documenting the Vancouver experience.
Going through the exhibits visitors will get a sense of the evolving and diverse community in Vancouver, how people have played a particular role in the building of the city and active community engagement. Toderian said this "strong feeling" of empowering residents is championed throughout the exhibit in three key themes of community, perspectives, and opportunity.
"Following so closely after the Winter Olympics, this is a pretty significant opportunity for us to profile our city on a global stage," he said. "The expo folks were pretty interested in how an expo can start a significant transformation of a city in a positive way."
While Vancouver does indeed boast a very multicultural community, Toderian cited actions taken by Vancouverites decades ago as positive steps as to how they wanted to see their city develop. Prime examples include saying no to putting a freeway through suburban neighborhoods to the city center and rejecting commercial development that was proposed at the entrance of Stanley Park, a 400-plus-hectare downtown green space that is one of the largest civic parks anywhere.
"It starts with the perspective of saying no to freeways can be a very smart, strategic move for a city. That decision in the late '60s was a pivotal moment in our city building history to how we' ve been exploring concepts of urban sustainability and really transforming and reinventing old models of city building with a different perspective."
Of the opportunity theme, this entails everything the city has learned from hosting the Expo '86 through to the Winter Olympics and using that knowledge toward its goal of becoming the greenest city of the world by 2020.
Among the city's long-time eco-practices have been an active collection program where glass, paper and metals are recycled, a yard-trimmings collection service, as well as a program to turn table scraps such vegetable and fruits peelings, teabags, coffee rinds and eggshells, among others, into compost.
Along with promoting the use of public transport, designated bicycle lanes have been highly controversial, especially with motorists unwilling to share the road, but the city continues to champion them in a bid to reduce vehicle traffic and emissions.
Other initiatives of late have included installing a demonstration beehive project on the roof of city hall to help pollinate trees and urban gardens, and approving a program that allows local residents to keep up to four chickens in their backyard to promote "sustainability, food security and consumption of locally grown food."
While some may laugh at urbanites raising chickens at home, Toderian said it is really all about how a person wants to live and what they want to give back to the society around them, one of the prime reasons Vancouver was participating in the Shanghai Expo.
"We're going there to promote our initiatives and attract investments in tourism, immigration and education here, so that's a very strong economic development opportunity for us going into the future. But we also know we are also very well positioned to influence the global dialogue on city building," he said.
"Given the challenges the world faces around climate change and peak oil, we take that responsibility very seriously. We know the world pays attention when the Vancouver story is told. We have that kind of profile and thus we have that kind of responsibility to really influence the global discussion on city building," he added. (PNA/Xinhua)