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Shanghai Expo Site to Transform City Skyline for the Better in Time

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Shanghai's hosting of the World Expo marks a momentous occasion in the city's history and one that will ultimately improve the lives of local residents in the long-term, according to two of the main principals who transformed Vancouver's waterfront following the Canadian city's hosting of Expo '86.

While the eventual redevelopment of the Shanghai expo site straddling both sides of the Huangpu River will forever change the city's skyline, the transformation will take years to ensure the land's proper usage and the quality of the buildings and infrastructure constructed there, say architect Stanley Kwok and developer Terrance Hui.

The two Vancouver residents, both Hong Kong immigrants, are key figures in the rise of Concord Pacific Development, a company established in 1987 by billionaire Li Kashing, then the principal stakeholder, with the purpose of acquiring and developing the expo land. With the successful purchase of 204 acres along the north shore of False Creek, about one-sixth of downtown Vancouver, for a reported 320 million Canadian dollars, today the former industrial land has been transformed into a city showpiece with parks and more than 40 residential towers that house thousands of residents.

Hui, the forty-something tycoon who purchased Li's interest in Concord Pacific and now has mega-projects under development in Toronto and Calgary, among others, says even 20 years after buying the expo land, the company was "only 70 percent through the site."

"I think it is a positive that you take a reasonable amount of time to adjust to the market. It is a large mass of land," say Hui who immigrated to Canada in 1985. "It is an important piece of land, the people own it, it belongs to the city and you want to do it right, properly, so it is going to take time."

Kwok, the former deputy chairman of Concorde Pacific who arrived in the city in 1968, adds like all development, it takes a long time to realize a site's potential.

"First you have to plan the thing, then you have to execute. Execution takes a long time, particularly when you are talking of a city," says Kwok, a young-looking 83-year-old who graduated with a degree in architecture from Shanghai's famed St. John's University in 1948.

"But if you judge in the terms of the speed that Shanghai does thing, how China does things, the speed will be much faster than what we're doing here, that I'm sure."

With the responsibility of creating what was essentially a new city within a city, Hui said great care was taken to create a master plan where so far 33 buildings have been realized with another 14 currently under construction.

When completed, the 56 planned towers - a mix low-rise, mid- rise and townhome development - will house a population of about 17,000. Among the amenities constructed to cater to residents were two daycare centers, groceries, banking and restaurant facilities, in all 600,000 square feet of retail and 1.9 million sq ft of commercial.

In addition to a marina, a three-kilometer extension to the existing seawall was built, providing public waterfront access that connects to the rest of downtown.

"We also put in lot of technologies in our buildings in the early days. We were really selling the future, trying to get people to see the vision," Hui says. "Like any new product, the initial convincing part is always a challenge, but it worked out great for us in the end."

Concorde Pacific spent almost 18 million Canadian dollars installing the latest technologies in its buildings, becoming the first large-scale residential development to be wired with fibre- optic technology.

"When we began, condo living was not something most people thought of (in Vancouver). Condo living was not main-stream housing in those days, the neighborhood surrounding it was not very developed," Hui adds.

"The whole challenge to get people to see the future, to make that initial investment, it was challenge. But over the year people came to understand what we were doing."

An area Vancouverites did understand was park lands and green space. To be a responsible member of the community and not be viewed as an evil, faceless developer, Concorde Pacific built over 50 acres of parks within the expo land.

Kwok says by building up (the Vancouver site had a density of three to one, meaning three buildable square feet to each square foot of land) this ultimately creates more space at ground level for public space.

He adds successful developments feature extensive open spaces in areas to walk, fields for kids to play and activity spaces.

"All these are part and parcel of a city. In fact the land (in a new development) they have is almost like a small city.

"It is very much like a human body, blood has to flow. You need air to breath. A city is very much like that too, it needs its lungs as well. You can't do all buildings jammed together and no open space."

Both Kwok and Hui are confident great things will come from the development of the Shanghai expo land, but add the city planners really needed to create their vision looking to the city' s future needs

"If they could think out of the box, because they have to think of the next century, not just what's happening today," Kwok says.

"The main thing is traffic, not only traffic within this development. It's also how this development relates to the rest of the city. And also in their situation, straddling the Huangpu River, bringing the two pieces of land together will create a lot of opportunity for Pudong and Puxi to link together as one rather than being two separate entities."

"The site is a very good location," Hui says of the Shanghai expo land. "They share the same advantage (as Vancouver) in waterfront. Waterfront real estate is always desirable if you plan it properly."

"Shanghai has the benefit of international architecture. Every building is completing the showcase."

(Xinhua News Agency May 6, 2010)

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