April 29, 2013
Recently featured in MAS Context‘s Spring issue, a new project of city designer Paola Aguirre and architect Dennis Milam’s brings us a fresh perspective of our Lake Michigan shoreline. Starting in Chicago, From the Shore beautifully and honestly documents our lakefront experience.
The project’s mission is to engage the community at large to provide a systematic photographic recording of the Lake Michigan Shoreline, a few steps at a time.
As digital media becomes the strongest communication tool of our time, sharing images from any given place has become highly relevant. Everyone wants to know how does it look “being” there. That is the success of the Google Maps phenomena. Nevertheless, Google Maps is only done from the street, for the time being.
Maybe it is time to figure out the next step. How to record systematically relevant spaces that are limited to vehicle access? Or maybe this is just a new excuse for large-scale collaborative projects, and to engage people to walk this line.
Lake Michigan has a 1,638-mile shoreline.
That means 1,906,632 images to collect
I think we have a project.
Who wants to walk?
Posted at 1:49 PM No Comments
April 18, 2013
The Great Lakes Century team had another productive trip to Cleveland last week, this time for the launch event of the Council on the Great Lakes Region. Over 150 stakeholders convened to launch a new member-driven Council on the Great Lakes Region (CGLR, pronounced See-glrr).
The event brought together business leaders representing companies like BMO, Cliffs Natural Resources, Ontario Power Generation, and the Cleveland Port Authority; thought-leading academics like Dr. Gail Krantzberg of McMaster University; environmental leaders including Joel Brammeier of the Alliance for Great Lakes and Michelle Parker from the Shedd Aquarium; Coast Guard officials; Commissioner Lana Pollack of the International Joint Commission; and key political leaders like former Toronto Mayor David Miller and Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S., Honorable Gary Doer.
Expert panels covered many of the key binantional issues that can only be addressed as a unified force:
- Economic transformation and bi-national cooperation
- Water governance in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Region
- Business leadership and global competitiveness
- Regional infrastructure for 21st Century challenges
- Fostering sustainable communities
- Learning from existing efforts to build bridges
- Shared energy resources and strategies
The tone of the event was, on the whole, optimistic about the multitude of assets and opportunities in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River region to ensure a prosperous and sustainable future. These assets include, in the words of one CGLR’s organizers Dr. Matthew Mendelsohn of the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation, a great “freshwater resource, relatively healthy ecosystems, great research institutions, world class cities, and a diverse and well-educated population.”
In my view, the success of the Council will be marked by visionary thinking—its work should maintain a holistic and long-term focus. Thinking pragmatically about how to achieve change should not stop us from pursuing truly transformational “next-generation” solutions.
In a conversation about shared energy resources, most panelists were narrowly focused on the potential of natural gas as our transitional energy source. There was no conversation about innovations in lake water cooling, waste to energy, and wind power. And, a conversation on regional infrastructure did not even mention the idea of high speed rail or green infrastructure networks.
Tim Eder, Executive Director of Great Lakes Commission, stated that there was value in the Council remaining focused on a “high level, long-term vision for the sustainability of the region.” He was there representing his organization’s work to bring stakeholders together around the economic and environmental issues in the Great Lakes.
A day and a half of panel presentations culminated in a working session to identify the Council’s next steps. It was at this working session that we proposed the idea of coalescing around a shared, long-term vision to steer future efforts of the Council. As the Council’s agenda progresses, we will continue to advocate for this high level guiding vision to ensure that efforts and decisions being made across the basin collectively move us in the right direction.
More conversation on the launch event can be found on Twitter with hashtag #CGLR.
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April 4, 2013
Last week the Great Lakes Century team met in Cleveland with an impressive array of movers and shakers working to make their city and, by extension, the entire Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River basin a better place to live, work, and play. This was the first of what we hope will be many more equally enlightening and inspiring visits to cities throughout the basin.
The whirlwind day included a stop by Green City Growers Cooperative, a 3.25-acre inner-city greenhouse/hydroponics operation set to produce an impressive 60,000 heads of lettuce per week and some 300,000 lbs of herbs annually once at full capacity. Part of the Evergreen Cooperatives, Green City Growers is committed to providing fresh produce within a 50-mile radius and to empowering the inner-city neighborhood in which it’s located by providing jobs and training.
The day also included discussions with key sustainability and planning figures, including the newly-established Alliance for Water Future, the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium, the Cleveland Office of Sustainability, The Cleveland Foundation, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, members of Ohio’s Balanced Growth Program, and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and its Green City/Blue Lake Institute.
It was inspiring to witness first-hand the groundswell of sustainability efforts taking place in Cleveland and the team looks forward to incorporating the Cleveland story into the broader basin-wide narrative of what our region could look like in the coming 100 years.
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March 18, 2013
The central areas of many Great Lakes cities experienced population decline in recent decades while their suburban populations grew. The population growth of suburbs has been modest compared to the amount of land developed, and low-density sprawl (2.5 dwelling units/acre) has major impacts in terms of land consumption, infrastructure expenses, flooding, congestion and pollution. At the present rate of development, nearly 4,000 square miles of undeveloped land in the Basin would be built on in the next 35 years—that’s an area roughly the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.
What role can cities play in curtailing land consumption on the fringes? Most of the 16 million additional people expected in the Great Lakes Region by 2050 could fit within the vacated areas of inner cities at medium densities. To illustrate, Chicago contains almost 60 square miles of vacant land. By applying the density of 24 dwelling units per acre, which is approximately the density of the French Quarter in New Orleans, all of Metropolitan Chicago’s future population growth could be accommodated in those vacant lands. If developed at 80 dwelling units an acre—equivalent to Boston’s Beacon Hill—all of Metropolitan Chicago’s growth could be accommodated in 30 percent of its vacant lands.
Infill development utilizes existing infrastructure for a better long-term environmental and economic outcome than sprawl. In some cities, the infrastructure that once supported much larger populations is underutilized and too costly to maintain with a decreasing population and tax base. Meanwhile, suburban expansion creates the need to for more infrastructure, promoting greater congestion, pollution rates, and costs.
Data on housing starts indicate a promising turning point in the development of Great Lakes cities. In Milwaukee, Chicago, and Detroit, a growing share of housing starts are within the core city, although the majority of new housing is still outside the core city. The current real estate market makes urban properties competitive with suburban ones, and some cities offer additional incentives to developers and residents.
The shift towards densification is evident in population data too. Chicago, Milwaukee, and Akron, Ohio are all beginning to see city population growth climb in comparison to suburban populations. As the Chicago Tribune reports, the number of people living within two miles of City Hall increased 36 percent from 2000 to 2010.
The cost of sprawl inspires us to envision a future when urban areas support the region’s growing, diverse population without encroaching upon farmland, grasslands, and forests. If regions choose to invest in core cities, it won’t be long before compact urban neighborhoods attract new residents and prosper.
Posted at 3:53 PM Comments Off
February 27, 2013
The 1969 Cuyahoga River fire, arguably one the most significant environmental calamities in Great Lakes’ history, sparked the public’s attention and galvanized federal action around water pollution control. The result was the creation of the U.S. Clean Water Act, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.
Signed in 1972, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was principally established to ensure the U.S. and Canada were both taking action to control pollution, advance scientific research, and monitoring the water quality of the Great Lakes. The biggest threat at the time to water quality was point source pollution, from phosphorous loading by large sewage treatment plants to PCBs and mercury from industrial outfalls.
Since the original 1972 agreement and its 1978 and 1987 revisions, there have been a number of directly-related successes, including a reduction in the release of toxic substances and a significant decline in the number of invasive species introduced by ballast water.
Amended in 2012 for the third time, the Agreement is now revamped to take on today’s threats to water quality and quantity. Asian carp are aggressively making their way up the Mississippi River into the Chicago Area Water Ways. Lake levels have reached an all-time low in Lakes Huron and Michigan. And some issues of the past still linger. While we have successfully addressed point source pollution, that was arguably the easier task. Lake Erie had its worst harmful algal bloom in history in 2011 due in large part to non-point sources. The complex pollution issues of today involve increasingly intense rainfall events and the presence of the invasive zebra mussel which exacerbates the impact of phosphorus loads from non-point sources like agricultural runoff.
The 2012 Agreement builds on 40 years of binational success, and establishes new commitments to address today’s threats and yesterday’s challenges that remain.
New and retained areas of focus (“Annexes”) to the 2012 Agreement are:
|Retained Annexes||New Annexes|
|Areas of Concern||Climate Change Impacts|
|Discharges from Vessels||Aquatic Invasive Species|
|Lakewide Management||Habitat and (Native) Species|
|Chemicals of Mutual Concern||Science|
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February 8, 2013
Posted at 4:21 PM 1 Comment
January 24, 2013
The low levels of Lakes Michigan and Huron have received ample press recently (CNN, National Geographic, FOX, Canada Free Press) as the economic costs of low water levels become more apparent. At the same time, Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath continues to spark debate about how to boost the resilience of coastal cities in an era of rising sea levels and extreme weather events. While I am inspired by the attention that these two environmental shifts are receiving, clear explanations of their causes are hard to find. The role of global climate change in these events can be especially difficult to discern.
A panel last week at the Shedd Aquarium — Social and Biological Impacts of Rising Seas and Reduced Lake Levels – addressed the complexities of sea and lake level projections. Two ecologists, Ben Strauss of Climate Central and Phil Willink of Shedd Aquarium, presented alongside Anthony Oliver-Smith, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Florida. The projections they shared were not exactly uplifting, but their insight was refreshing nevertheless.
Scientists are currently projecting 2-5 ft (0.6-1.5 m) sea level rise by the end of the century, based on several factors:
- Thermal expansion – As water temperatures rise due to climate change, the water itself expands under increased temperatures. This expansion spread out over the oceans is expected to increase sea levels 1ft per century.
- Retreat of land-based glaciers – If all the world’s mountain glaciers melted, there would be a 2-3 ft increase in sea level.
- Ice sheet loss – Greenland and Antarctica are melting faster than previous predictions. From 2004-2007 loss of Greenland’s ice sheet is the area of 14 states, 3 ft thick.
- Land subsidence and uplift – Some land area are sinking and others are rising. Land can sinks due to groundwater depletion (e.g., Tianjin, China), and the Great Lakes area is recovering from glacier pressure.
SOM’s City Designers who attended found several points and questions especially relevant to the future of the Great Lakes:
- We must integrate the concept of change into civic planning and management. Natural systems are dynamic, yet people and infrastructure to not adapt well to fluctuations in their environment. How can we design our cities to be more flexible in the face of ever evolving conditions?
- Declining lake levels in the Great Lakes Basin reflect a 70 percent decline in ice cover over the last decade, which has led to increased evaporation. Lake Michigan is at an all time low of 6 ft below average. Falling lake levels may drop significantly below the level of the Chicago River, which would require the Army Corps of Engineers to either lower the water level of the Chicago River or re-reverse the flow of the river.
- We must consider both exposure (geographic, physical) and vulnerability (social construct: poverty, access to resources, coping mechanisms) when considering people’s risk for sea level rise. Developing coastal cities in Asia are some of the most exposed locations and the people moving there some of the most vulnerable. Considering this distinction, we must focus on reducing exposure and vulnerability.
- Displacement and resettlement due to sea level rise can be considered a secondary disaster if not done properly. People tend to think of resettlement/relocation as a physical process, but we shouldn’t ignore the social impacts of losing relationships and adapting to new places. Social networks are especially crucial for poor people who rely on them for key resources.
- There are some big unknowns about how sea level rise will cause settlement patterns to change:
- Will migration be internal or international?
- Will people move because of severe events or will there be a gradual shift away from coasts?
- Will individuals or whole communities move?
- Furthermore, what are the outcomes of mass migration due to climate change? What areas can take the influx? What will the living conditions be? What happens to the abandoned places?
Thanks to Shedd Aquarium and the University of Chicago for hosting this relevant and informative event.
Posted at 6:18 PM Comments Off
January 22, 2013
Mike Welton calls the Great Lakes Century, “a global model of what countries can do to build relationships around water issues.”
Check out Welton’s blog architectsandartisans.com for two new stories about our work. This first post, published yesterday, discusses the impetus for this initiative and the value of cross-boundary collaboration. In the second installment, Welton delves into the importance of planning to protect the resources of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River watershed:
Forty million people depend on the resources of the Great Lakes region, but in recent years a glut of unchecked development along its lakefront has come to mean lower water levels and increased pollution.
To protect the lake system, architects at SOM are calling for a plan shaped by global dialogue between urban designers, scholars, advocates, politicians, students, and Great Lakes area residents.
The firm calls it the “Great Lakes Century – A 100-Year Vision,” and its partner is the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, a non-profit group made up of 91 mayors from cities in both the U.S. and Canada.
“We want to bring about the long-term economic, environmental and social sustainability of the region,” says David Ulrich, the group’s executive director and a longtime veteran with the EPA.
The initiative was established by former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley in 2003. “He felt local governments should have a say in decisions regarding the lakes and rivers, with a seat at the table,” he says. “He wanted to establish best practices, and felt that neither Washington D.C. or Ottawa were focusing on the region.”
Certainly, there’s no shortage of problems in the area. What started as a concern over water quality, quantity and vitality quickly has evolved into a broader sustainability agenda.
A threat from Asian carp making their way up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, already just 50 miles from the Great Lakes, is imminent. They’re a dominant species that can grow to four feet in length and 100 pounds, and they could bring an end to commercial and sport fishing in the lakes.
“They could destroy a $7 billion fishery,” he says.
Solutions call for stricter control of ballast waters, stricter screening of organisms allowed in, a restriction of their expansion and movement, and most significantly, placing physical barriers into the Chicago waterway system.
It may also mean restoring the natural divide that reversed the flow of the Chicago River in 1900. “We think that if we restore the flow, the carp will stay in the river,” he says.
The carp are only one of 39 species that threaten the region. Add to that climate change and six more threats that Ulrich, who calls himself a recovering attorney and an aspiring architect, can tick off at the drop of a hat, and a sense of urgency and a need for cooperation emerges.
“We want to link up the brain power around the basin, rather than compete for the research dollars and the prestige,” he says.
After all, the region represents the fourth largest economy in the world – behind those of the U.S., China and Japan.
Posted at 2:41 PM Comments Off
January 17, 2013
Check out today’s announcement regarding our 2013 Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects. We are thrilled by the feedback from the mayors of Chicago, Milwaukee, Thunder Bay and Quebec City and our collaborators at the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.
“We have a responsibility to be stewards of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River basin,” SOM Urban Design and Planning Partner Philip Enquist, FAIA, said. “We must design our cities and region to eliminate waste, and rely on more innovative and sustainable development strategies. We can and must ensure fresh water for all future generations.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, board member of the Cities Initiative, praised the work of SOM and added, “The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence are our Yellowstone Park, and this vision will help people in the region and around the world understand even better what a treasure we have in our front yard.”
Chair of the Cities Initiative and Mayor of Milwaukee Tom Barrett remarked, “By bringing large and small cities together from across the basin, we have been able to think and act much more effectively as a region to tackle the tough problems of invasive species, chemical pollution, beach closures, and much more. We are also making sure that the economic benefits that come from an abundant fresh water supply, unlimited recreational opportunities, a $7 billionfishery, and other advantages are fully utilized.”
Vice Chair Mayor Keith Hobbs of Thunder Bay, Ontario, noted, “Even though here on the north shore of Lake Superior we are many hundreds of miles away from most of our Canadian and U.S. neighbors, the unifying force of the water is bringing us closer together all the time. It is helping us act much more effectively as a cohesive community to solve the problems we face and make a better future for our children and grandchildren.”
At the far eastern edge of the basin along the St. Lawrence is Quebec City where Mayor Regis Labeaume , secretary treasurer for the Cities Initiative, remarked “When the first French explorers came to what is now Quebec City, little did they realize what a boundless treasure would unfold as they moved up the river to the Great Lakes. Over 400 years later, it is time we do even more to bring about a future that matches the magnitude and quality of the resource we are so fortunate to share.”
“The basin’s mayors are bringing to life a shared vision of a healthy and prosperous region in harmony with nature,” Enquist said, “Executive director Dave Ullrich and the Cities Initiative’s elected leaders have been fantastic partners who are making changes for the better happen from Chicago and Duluth to the Gulf of St. Lawrence.”
Posted at 2:27 PM Comments Off
January 14, 2013
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) recently recognized the Great Lakes Century Vision as a distinguished achievement that expands the role of the architect in urban design, regional and city planning, and community development. It is an incredible honor to recieve the 2013 award for regional and urban design.
Here is what the AIA jury had to say:
This is a strong environmental vision for an important global natural asset. There is power in the grand scale and how it looks at regional sustainability less in terms of direct environmental protection and more in terms of a transformational shift to a green regional economy catalyzed by high speed rail connectivity.
This is a compelling effort that promotes international coordination around critical issues and necessary thinking if we are ever to address the environmental consequences of regional development. As more global attention is being paid to the scale and issues of the mega-region, this approach to examining the interconnected environmental, social, and design issues across jurisdictions offers a great precedent for practice in the future.
It’s wonderfully responsible that this is being sponsored on this scale and scope. It is a call for larger scale action and vision. These are the issues that architects, planners and urban designers should be focusing on.
We are thrilled to have Editor in Chief of Metropolis Magazine, Susan S. Szenasy, celebrate this award!
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