Expo 2010 underway in Shanghai

Would you like to travel the world in a giant vertical eco-airship powered by algae?

Me too.

That’s the idea of one Belgian architect, whose plan is on display at the just-opened Expo 2010 Shanghai China. The Expo started on May 1, and it’ll run until October. Its theme is “Better City, Better Life”.

World Expos (or World's Fairs or Universal Expositions, as they’ve also been called) have been held since 1851, when the first one took place in London. They’re a chance for the world’s countries to come together, put their latest technological marvels on display, and dream about the future. And these days, as Wikipedia tells me, countries use the Expos to brand themselves and to share their cultures with the rest of the planet.

Each country at the Expo has its own pavilion, and each pavilion has its own theme. For example, the Czech pavilion’s theme is “Fruits of Civilization” and the Indian pavilion’s theme is “Cities of Harmony”. The theme for the USA pavilion is “Rise to the Challenge.” There are many, many pavilions. You can learn all about them on the Expo's website.

Hosting a World Expo is a big deal for the host city. Not only does the city get an economic boost from all the visitors, they also get to show off their hometown. Often they build elaborate structures just for the event, and sometimes these structures even become iconic. Like the Space Needle in Seattle. Or the Eiffel Tower, which was built for the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris (it was supposed to be torn down afterward, but when they realized it could be used as a giant antenna, they let it stay).

I’ve always liked the idea of World’s Fairs. I like the idea of countries coming together in the spirit of cooperation, so they can learn from each other and imagine green airships powered by algae. After this year’s expo in Shanghai, the next scheduled events are 2012 in South Korea and 2015 in Milan, Italy.

Photo: stefano meneghetti via Flickr (CC license)

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