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Estonian pavilion at EXPO 2010 in Shanghai urges action to save the cities

The EXPO 2010 in Shanghai, China, runs from 1 May to 31 October this year and the main theme is “Better city, better life.” It will highlight the global public attention on the rapid urbanization problems and tries to look for solutions. EXPO’s theme reflects mankind’s desire for a better life in the future urban environment – in 1800, 2 per cent of the world’s population lived in a city, 29 per cent did in 1950 and in 2010 the United Nations estimates the urban population share of the total to be 55 per cent. At EXPO, Estonia is portraying itself as a small and innovative Nordic country that wants to help people arrive at better solutions through improving environments for living and creativity. The organizer of Estonia’s participation at EXPO 2010 is Enterprise Estonia.

According to Enterprise Estonia’s director of marketing and communications, Erki Peegel, Estonia will unveil an interactive pavilion (ca. 1,000 sq m) that calls on people to join in an initiative to “save” the world’s cities. “The pavilion will allow people to make their voice heard regarding urbanization, encouraging all visitors to think about and look for solutions to topics related to growing cities. The Estonian pavilion will literally be clad in bright folk costume, distinct from the other Nordic pavilions (Finnish, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian) and their more modest shades of colour. An Estonian flag on the roof of the pavilion will wave on Google Earth. Inside, an art installation offers participatory possibilities. Situated throughout the entire pavilion are giant piggy banks that will fill up with good ideas from visitors for making the world’s cities better. The big screen in the pavilion will demonstrate to visitors what the world’s best city is like,” says Peegel.

“The last few decades have seen an increase in community-oriented thinking worldwide. The greater level of civic association stems from a desire to do something to make living environments better. Community networking is facilitated by modern information technology solutions – the Internet, and the online telephony application Skype, which was developed in Estonia and continues to be based in the Estonian capital, Tallinn,” he says.

Seedbed of the global debate

Peegel points out that Estonia has put into practice a number of initiatives worth sharing with the world. Consider the “Let’s Do It” campaign in 2008, when 50,000 volunteers took part in a rubbish cleanup event nationwide. Valuable experience has been shared on the global arena – similar actions have been carried out in India, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia and Romania, among other countries. In 2009, people turned out en masse for nationwide brainstorming sessions on how to improve governance and make life in society better – a valuable exchange of experience that instilled self-confidence and spawned many new initiatives.

“The Estonian pavilion’s seedbed for global synergy is an online interface called SAVECITY.ORG. It is dedicated to gathering good thoughts and ideas and sending them to different cities. Ideas and solutions will be posted on the portal for exchanging and developing experiences. For instance, a city with a problem of rubbish left on the streets might learn from the positive experiences of another urban area,” explains Peegel.

“SAVECITY.ORG also provides a way for those who cannot make it to Shanghai to address issues concerning their home towns and other cities. And to allow visitors to continue to communicate and exchange positions, the portal boasts a forum categorized by topic and city, where visitors can interact and comment,” Peegel adds.

“One of the portal’s central goals is to use a community-based mindset to improve the situation in the world’s cities. Part of the interface focuses on offering a means for creating and administering efficient communities of engaged people all over the world – people who will continue to keep these virtual cities active even after the EXPO closes in October 2010.”

Increasing interest in Estonia?

“EXPO is not a trade fair, but is an event for introducing different countries. It will not put too much emphasis on what someone has to sell. Estonians, however, built a small conference room by their pavilion where universities or companies can look for customers and partners,” Peegel admits.

The concept of the Estonian pavilion at EXPO 2010 was created by a team from the brand agency Identity, the architecture company AET-Arhitektid and the interior design firm Ruumilabor. The aims of the Estonian pavilion at the World Exhibition are: to create interest so visitors will want to travel to Estonia; to create an interest in Estonia as a place where you can do business or study; to organize special events in a closed area of the pavilion (to develop commercial, cultural, educational and other relations); to introduce Estonia in general on the global stage.

According to Peegel Estonia has an opportunity to attract attention among other pavilions thanks to its different form, and after the event as well with its content. “To serve people the things why we are there through surprising effect. After that the team’s work at the pavilion is to direct people to look at Estonian cultural, educational and tourism opportunities and to turn initial interest into real business contacts.”

“WORLD EXPO 2010 is the best opportunity for Estonian innovative companies and institutions to establish contacts with a rapidly developing Asia. In the socalled “closed workshop area” (for VIPs) various business and professional associations – and umbrella organizations – have expressed an interest in introducing themselves. A number of events have been planned in advance already. Most active are the logistics and transit sector with clear economic interests in China. They have planned a series of events for June and the autumn. In early May an exhibition of the IT sector was opened in the pavilion area and seminars were held by the Centre for Information Technology and Telecommunications Union (ITL), and the City of Tallinn. In late May events were organized by the tourism sector. In addition to the transit sector event in June, the Tallinn Tehnopol and Tartu Science Park seminar also took place.”

Erki Peegel explains that EXPO presents a major opportunity to establish direct contact with major foreign partners. “Businesses or business organizations themselves have to set specific objectives and focus and I know that many of the industries already have their objectives. The Estonian state offers, through the pavilion at the EXPO, a unique opportunity to create meaningful contacts with one of the world’s fastest growing countries. It can be said that the EXPO is a global meeting place for six months. I believe that the EXPO has been an inspiration to businesses and active people.

“Enterprise Estonia’s EXPO team consisted of five members during the setup period. This was in addition to the serious work over the past year done by a consortium, ‘savecity.org’ (AET Architects, Ruumilabor and Identity). From the beginning of the EXPO 2010 – 1 May – 21 people have been working at the Estonian pavilion every day, building stands, IT specialists and so on. They come from places such as China and Estonia.”

The EXPO should see 70-80 million visitors during the six month duration, and the Estonian pavilion expects about 2-2.5 million people to visit it. Participation in the world exhibition will cost Estonia about EEK 60 million.

Good opportunities for the IT sector

Estonian IT entrepreneurs and representatives from the City of Tallinn introduced the country’s e-solutions at a seminar held in the Estonian pavilion at EXPO 2010.

Taavi Kotka, President of the Estonian Association of Information Technology and Telecommunications, and chairman of the management board of Webmedia, says EXPO 2010 offers a good chance to promote various e-solutions. “The Chinese want to implement and develop various e-services in a number of areas, and yet Estonia’s experience and progress to this point came as a surprise to many of them,” said Kotka. “I believe the businesslike meetings and major media coverage we have seen will end up generating a substantial cooperation project.”

Jiang Yiqun, deputy head of economic affairs and IT of the City of Beijing, said he was impressed with the various e-solutions applied in Tallinn, especially the ID ticket and comprehensive strategy for development of e-services. And head of the Shanghai association of software companies, Yang Genxing, who delivered a presentation, said that given their calibre, Estonia’s innovative solutions such as e-school and m-parking deserved to be implemented in China as well.

According to Maria Alajõe, member of the management board of Enterprise Estonia and organizer of Estonia’s participation in EXPO 2010, the seminars showed that entrepreneurs are developing good contacts by being active themselves at the EXPO. “What we are offering in the Estonian pavilion is a good place for entrepreneurs to organize various events; it is good that people have seized these opportunities actively,” added Alajõe.

 

Originally published in Business Estonia magazine.

About Tiit Konsand