The Reinvention Tour

Shanghai prepares itself for the 2010 World Expo

By: By Gary Bowerman


Park Hyatt Shanghai
Shanghai World Financial Center
100 Century Ave.
SWFC Observatory
Shanghai World Financial Center
100 Century Ave.
World Expo 2010 Exhibition Center
Hong Kong New World Tower
300 Huaihai Road

The Shanghai 2010 World Expo

  Straddling both banks of the Huangpu River, the 2010 Expo in Shanghai will focus on the theme of "Better City, Better Life" and aims to challenge ideas on human existence in the urban environments of the future. The Expo will feature more than 200 international pavilions and myriad new attractions.

For visitors who can’t wait until 2010, the excellent 2010 World Exhibition Center features a large three-dimensional simulation video screen that transports you above, across and around the whole site, plus interactive exhibits and scale models of the Expo pavilions and attractions and a section on World Expo History.

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No two visits to Shanghai are ever the same. A common observation by visitors to China’s fastest, brashest, most fashionable city is that it exists in a perpetual state of reinvention. Though it may not be blessed with Beijing’s imperial palaces, a Great Wall or Xian’s terra-cotta warriors, Shanghai does not lack tourism appeal and now, the city is preparing for its greatest showcase.

A view of the Shanghai World Financial Center, the tallest building in China // (c) Gary Bowerman
A view of the Shanghai World Financial Center, the tallest building in China

Between May 1 and Oct. 31, 2010, Shanghai will host what it hopes will be the "largest World Expo in history." It cannot wait — and visitors can hardly fail to notice the excitement. Almost every taxi, bus and metro train carries promotional videos for the 2010 World Expo, as do the high-definition television screens hoisted onto the fronts of downtown shopping malls. The expo’s cartoonish blue mascot, Haibao (meaning ‘Treasure of the World’), is visible everywhere, as is the Expo’s slogan, "Better City, Better Life." Held every five years (the last was in Aichi, Japan, in 2005), the World Expo concept has lost much of its tourism appeal in recent years. Shanghai, however, aims to change that.

The city has already signed up more than 200 participating nations and international organizations and is expecting 70 million (primarily Chinese) visitors during the six-month event. Work has also begun at the approximately two square-mile Expo site, which straddles both sides of the Huangpu River that flows through Shanghai.

The 2010 World Expo is not just a Shanghai event. It is a national showcase.

As People’s Republic of China president Hu Jintao recently said, "Hosting a successful, splendid and unforgettable World Expo is crucial for China in its drive to fully build a well-off society."

No wonder Shanghai is taking its role as the host city so seriously. Everyone who arrives in Shanghai over the next two years will experience a metropolitan makeover similar to the one that Beijing received before the 2008 Olympics. By May 1, 2010, the "new" Shanghai will feature two upgraded and enlarged international airports, three rail stations, a state-of-the-art passenger cruise terminal, a new riverside leisure and residential district, an 11-line subway network and scores of new retail malls and hotels.

The entire makeover is now being presided over by Shanghai’s dominant new landmark. The 1,614-foot Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC) opened in September and is currently China’s tallest building. Primarily an office tower, the SWFC is also home to the new Park Hyatt Shanghai (the world’s highest hotel situated between the 79th and 93rd floors) and the vertigo-inducing SWFC Observatory.

The observatory features two cloud-busting viewing platforms: a 97th-floor observatory with a retractable roof and a 100th-floor glass corridor with transparent panels in the floor. The observatory is already Shanghai’s hottest tourism attraction. Its views over the city are breathtaking, but clients should also take a glance down at the large portion of land being cleared beside the SWFC. This will be the location for an even taller building, the 1,901-foot Shanghai Center Tower, which will be shaped like a coiled dragon’s tail. It is slated to open in 2015.

The World Expo is not just about new attractions. Shanghai’s heritage buildings are also part of the plan. Beginning in 2010, a stroll along The Bund, Shanghai’s grand strip of late 19th- and early 20th-century banking mansions along the west bank of the Huangpu River, will be a little different. A Boston-style "Big Dig" is under way to pedestrianize the multilane highway that separates the Bund buildings from the River and reroute all traffic, except buses and taxis, into an underground tunnel. The covered area will be newly landscaped with parks and pavilions and an improved riverside boardwalk as well.

Several Bund buildings are being restyled as new hotels, including, most notably, the two former wings of the Peace Hotel, both of which are currently closed for renovations. The art-deco Cathay Hotel wing will reopen in 2010 as The Fairmont Peace Hotel Shanghai, while the more European-style Palace hotel sibling will be rebranded as the Swatch Art Peace Hotel. Further north on the Bund, a brand-new Peninsula Shanghai is scheduled to open later this year.

The Peninsula Shanghai will form part of the Waitan Yuan development, which joins Shanghai’s two rivers, the Huangpu and Suzhou Creek. Few visitors venture along Suzhou Creek, which was once a crucial inland trade route between Huangpu River port and the city of Suzhou, located 78 miles away, but it is highly recommended.

A multimillion-dollar clean-up of the formerly polluted river is now being followed by redevelopment along its banks. Starting at the magnificent clock-towered Post Office, a walk north along this once-derelict area reveals some fine art deco and industrial architecture, several art galleries and cafes, 12 bridges and timeless lilong (lane) neighborhoods. Scores of residential towers are also springing up and tree-lined boardwalks are under construction.

On the Huangpu River, the Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal sits on the up-and-coming North Bund area. Its centerpiece, designed by John Portman & Associates and currently under construction, will be the twisting 1,053-foot Center Tower. Replicating the lucky Chinese number eight, this remarkable building will be a fitting waterside gateway to the "new" city of Shanghai.