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Posts from — December 2011

What Would Burnham Say?

The Great Lakes Century was featured in Planning Magazine by Ruth Knack this month.

What would Burnham say?

Two and a half years ago, a group of Chicago–area planners and designers were asked to come up with ideas to mark the centennial of Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan for Chicago. Philip Enquist decided to use the occasion to spark interest in a 100-year vision for the entire Great Lakes region. Enquist, partner in charge of urban planning for Skidmore Owings Merrill, worked with Clint Bautz, AICP, the firm’s senior urban designer, on the plan, part of an ongoing initiative that they call “The Great Lakes Century.”

“We asked ourselves, if Daniel Burnham were doing a plan today, what issue would he start with? We thought it might be, How can we fix the Great Lakes region? We took off from there,” says Bautz. “But most regional studies stick to the U.S. We thought it made more sense to think of the region in a binational way.”

At a time of freshwater shortages throughout the world, the availability of water is the region’s greatest strength. The plan acknowledges that, says Bautz, but it also points out the dangers posed by pollution and helter-skelter development. “The experts we consulted have a lot to say about greening our lakefront cities and dealing with stormwater,” Bautz says. The plan will also look at ways to encourage density in appropriate locations.

Some things are already beginning to happen. Participants in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative regularly collaborate. And many of the universities in the Great Lakes states are devoting research dollars to regional issues. The University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee offers a master’s degree in fresh water sciences, and the University of Toronto’s Mowatt Center for Policy Innovation is studying regional economic conditions. “We’re also looking for new ways to move people around the region,” says Bautz. One proposal calls for a high-speed rail connection between Chicago and Toronto with a stop in Detroit. “Going across the border makes more sense than the St. Louis–Chicago line that the federal government is proposing,” he says.

Other issues being studied include energy. “We’re calling for a renewable energy policy in the Great Lakes region,” Bautz says.

“Our work so far has started a dialog in the region, on both sides of the border,” says Enquist. “We’re finding that this is a much larger issue than just clean water. It’s really about reviving our cities. It has taken on a life of its own.” For more on the initiative, including a blog, go to www.som.com/content.cfm/recognizing_a_global_resource.

December 14, 2011   Comments Off

Imagine a Park, You Say?

The Skidmore vision for the Great Lakes challenges us to imagine the region as a park. A park, you say? Well, when I was first exposed to the Skidmore vision for the region expressed as a sort of bi-national park I was kind of caught outside of my own “zone” and was surprised and at the same time intrigued by what I heard and saw. We likely all tend to base our own “realities” in terms of our personal experiences and in my own case, though I am a big fan of parks, frankly it had just not occurred to me to think about the whole, enormous Great Lakes region as a park.

I and most North Americans likely imagine a “Park” as a pristine space that is protected, has important assets (likely mainly natural) to be protected as well as enjoyed, a plan (likely long-term) and a long-term vision. Imagine, for example the wonderful National Parks that we love, in both Canada and the United States; like the Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park that together form the shared Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. But in other parts of the world say, Europe a park can mean something much different than a pristine, natural, protected and managed area – it could be as much urban and developed as natural.

Well, the idea of a Great Lakes Saint Lawrence “regional sustainability park” is likely going to be just as important in sustaining the natural assets of the region as its human, intellectual, community, social, industrial, economic assets.

I realize we likely need to achieve something that has some realizable attributes and describing these attributes as the elements of a park may help us get our heads around how to perceive and then achieve this vision. We need a park that might have the following attributes;

  • A binational sustainability region (actually, international including Tribes and First Nations); with
  • A global identity;
  • Shared vision, plans, goals;
  • Resources, timelines, accountabilities; and,
  • It would be a shared new enterprise based on enhancing our amazing shared natural asset, our freshwater.

To achieve this vision we need a new approach to governance. From a sustainability point of view, we will need to be able to answer questions like: How will we feed, house, transport and support the growing population that will live in our new park? Achieving such a vision will likely not be possible if we expect it to be achieved by our local, state, provincial and national governments as we know them, acting alone for us but basically in competition with each other.  We need a kind of societal project that captures the imagination of people in our cities, industry, schools, farms, industry and among leaders and innovators, everywhere including of course, in all of our levels of government.

This new approach to governance likely needs to:

  • take an inclusive, distributed, watershed based approach;
  • stem from a stewardship ethic that motivates people to contribute and get involved;
  • have a knowledge base that informs effective decision-making based on an open and distributed approach to data and information access;
  • provide the financial investment to ensure full implementation of the new approach.

We need to imagine, realize and help establish a framework approach aimed at challenging all individuals, groups, corporations and sectors with HOW to achieve such a vision. What are the investments we need to make? What are the policies we need to put in place? What do we all need to do to in order to contribute to achieving a vision such as this?

Rick Findlay is Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Water Network and is the Chair of the Great Lakes Futures Roundtable. 

December 7, 2011   Comments Off