OK, China has environmental issues: soil erosion, rising oil consumption, runaway air pollution. But Shanghai, China's largest city, is refreshingly green. This hip metropolis 745 miles south of Beijing boasts scenic parks, tasty vegetarian food and a bustling bike culture. And it's greening up even more for the 2010 World Expo.
From May through October 2010, Shanghai will host the international showcase formerly known as the "World's Fair." The six-month World Expo will be the biggest event in China since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, with Shanghai officials expecting 70 million visitors. Accordingly, they're investing billions in sustainably designed buildings, new subway lines, and public campaigns promoting recycling and green lifestyles.
World Expo "is the occasion for China to bring the world at home [sic], and for the world to feel at home in China," notes the event's website. "Shanghai hopes to build a powerful and lasting pilot example of sustainable and harmonious living."
Green buildings rising
Want a sneak preview? Visit the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center. The downtown building has sleek displays detailing green aspects of Expo construction. Take an escalator to the top floor, and you'll find a glowing, 8,000-square-foot scale model of the city.
Feel like getting around Shanghai en plein air? It's a great place to stroll. Moreover, compared with less cosmopolitan Asian cities, the former fishing village is a relatively good place to bike — if you can negotiate frenetic traffic. China Cycle Tours offers rolling sightseeing excursions and rents basic bikes for $12 per day.
Herbivorous options abound, however, if you know where to look. Street vendors sell soy milk, sumptuous vegetable dumplings, chewy pancakes and fresh corn, for example, and fried-eggs-and-tomato is a tasty lunch-stall option. For fresh shellfish, head to Shanghai's charming, labyrinthine Old City. Hankering for a traditional vegetarian experience? Try such famous restaurants as Chunfeng Songyue Lou, Gongdelin and Zao Zi Shu.
Parks aren't Shanghai's only natural wonders. The impressive Shanghai Zoo has walking paths and exotic animals. (Thanks to "Frog Daddy," a resident eco-landscaper, it also has a tranquil frog sanctuary.) Looking for something more aromatic? Check out the Shanghai Botanical Garden, a haven for azaleas, orchids and medicinal plants.
You can also find nature indoors at the Shanghai Museum. This multistory cultural landmark features a stunning collection of classical Chinese landscapes. The pastoral ink scrolls live in a dark, quiet, wood-paneled room. As you walk among them, motion sensors cue track lights in time with your footsteps. It's a serene way to experience some of China's most prized cultural treasures.
The eco-city that couldn't?Shanghai is getting greener, but not all of its eco-projects are proceeding according to plan. Take Dongtan, a planned "eco-city" on nearby Chongming island: The United Nations claims a completed Dongtan, which was designed by a Hong Kong firm, would be the "world's first fully fledged eco-city" — think alternative energy, über-recycling, hydrogen fuel cells and organic food. But according to news reports, the four-year-old project has fallen way behind schedule. A Sunday Telegraph reporter calls Dongtan a "pipe dream."
The would-be eco-city's planning has suffered from bureaucratic problems, according to Beijing journalist Christina Larson. "Although the project was widely publicized internationally, most locals knew little about it," she wrote in an April 2009 story for Yale Environment 360. "The political leaders who championed the project were ousted in a corruption scandal, and their successors have allowed construction permits to lapse."
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