January 9, 2013
Philip Enquist, Partner in charge of Skimore, Owings & Merrill’s global city design practice, was recently featured in Metropolis Magazine as a game changer in planning for “envisioning a future for the (Great Lakes) region that would make Daniel Burnham proud.”
SOM’s Great Lakes Century team is thrilled by this honor!
Read the full feature here: http://www.metropolismag.com/story/20130109/game-changers-planning-the-great-lakes-century
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January 8, 2013
In his book Geography of Time: On Tempo, Culture, and the Pace of Life, author Robert Levine dedicates some early chapters to a historical understanding of time in an attempt to shed light on its current and varied perception in modern societies across the world. As with any deft historical account, Levine’s book naturally touches on a number of less obvious bedfellows of time, including water.
As Levine notes, ancient time measuring devices lacked the degree of granularity necessary to track the passing seconds, minutes, and hours of their ancient creators. The advent of sun dials, hour glasses, and water clocks – the sky, earth, and water trifecta of the ancient temporal world – some 5,500 years ago brought the passing of those ancient days into much sharper focus. Water clocks and hour glasses, in particular, also allowed for a revolutionary and meaningful division of nighttime, which had until then occupied the dark hours beyond the reach of the sun’s marching shadows.
Not surprisingly, the material matter so vital to the measuring of time soon became entwined with time itself. According to Levine, ancient Roman lawyers would commonly request that a judge “aquam dare,” or give water, when beseeching more time for the development of a defense. Conversely, a lawyer might refer to a measure that could cause one to “aquam perdere,” or lose water, when referring to time lost in a case. Practically speaking, water had become a proxy for time; conceptually, time had become water, flowing and finite.
As we look out over the next 100 years of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River basin we might be well served to adopt this sort of conceptual entanglement. Unlike alarming calls to action that equate water to the next oil – a finite resource that may be essential to our way of life, but not necessarily to life itself – the progressive loss of fresh, uncontaminated water is a sort of water clock for all types of life, human and otherwise: as it runs down, so too do we. When “aquam perdemus” – when we lose water – we also undermine the perpetuation of the improbable and fragile experiment that is life on Earth.
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November 21, 2012
I recently toured several energy generation facilities on the South Side of Chicago with the Southeast Environmental Task Force. Two sites in particular — Waste Management’s gas to electricity facility to Exelon’s Solar City facility – suggested the diversity and complexity of clean, renewable energy in Chicago.
Exelon’s Solar City facility, built and operated by San Jose-based Sunpower, generates 10 mW on a 41-acre site. Peggy Salazar of the Southeast Environmental Task Force raised the question of whether large-scale solar farms are an effective use of land in Chicago, when the same number of panels could be installed on existing buildings. Sunpower’s site engineered explained to us that there are some advantages to a large solar farm. For example, the panels are on a tracking system that boosts their production by 25 percent.
Solar City, privately funded, should not preclude installations on homes and commercial buildings. Its capacity is small compared to the total electricity demand in Chicago, and but the facility leverages an asset – vacant land – that wasn’t suitable for other uses. Since its commissioning in 2010, the panels have sent 19,000 kWh to the grid.
At the Waste Management facility on 130th Street, I learned that WM’s landfill gas-to-energy facilities generate more electricity than the entire solar industry in the U.S. Landfill gas is the methane released from capped landfills; if it’s not captured to generate electricity, it must be burned off anyway. Landfill gas isn’t most people think of as renewable resource, but the facility harnesses a fuel source that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and produced electricity with no emissions.
The system has been running since 1989, and WM expects the landfill will continue to release the methane that can fuel the system for six to 10 more years. It began with three turbines, which are similar to jet engines, and now its single turbine generates 3.2 kW per hour. With other resources such as natural gas low in price, the operator of WM’s system says it is no longer profitable to operate the turbines.
Although neither Solar City nor landfill gas-to-energy can be scaled to meet Chicago’s entire energy demand, they demonstrate the potential to diversify electricity generation here. Both sites leverage assets – vacant land and landfills – as new opportunities for renewable energy.
Rachel Belanger is a researcher in SOM’s City Design Practice and is located in Chicago.
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November 19, 2012
The Great Lakes Century Vision calls for the region to tap renewable energy opportunities. As of 2011, the majority of the region’s electricity generation capacity remained at fossil-fuel facilities: 39 percent coal, 29 percent gas and 4 percent oil. Power generation is linked to many issues facing the Great Lakes, since these power plants release mercury and other pollutants into t he local environment. In addition, carbon dioxide emitted from burning fossil fuels contributes to global climate change.
The region is beginning to transition to more sustainable energy sources, and 2012 has brought several milestones. In March, the Obama administration signed an agreement with five Great Lakes states – Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and New York – to streamline the process of developing wind projects. In addition, the Lake Erie Offshore Wind Project is moving forward with its first phase, a 20-30 mW installation. Renew Wisconsin announced last week that the state’s electricity providers have the supplies to meet the state’s target of 10 percent renewable energy generation by 2015.
Chicago’s energy generation landscape has undergone some major shifts this year as well. In August, Chicago’s two coal-fired power plants, Crawford and Fisk, closed permanently. Environmental activists and community organizations celebrated when the plants closed, which a previous agreement had slated for 2018. Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center commented in the Chicago Tribune,
This marks a turning point from Chicago’s reliance on two highly polluting coal plants that use fuel from out of state to a cleaner energy future that’s less polluting and uses more Illinois wind and other clean resources.
In the summer of 2012, Chicago activists also celebrated when New York-based Leucadia National Corporation abandoned its proposal for a coal gasification plant. Although the project was billed as clean energy, environmental and community groups protested the use of coal in an already heavily-polluted area of Chicago. The site, near 115th Street on the Calumet River, is amidst residential neighborhoods as well as massive piles of raw goods: coal, asphalt, petroleum coke, scrap metal and other sands and gravel.
Moving away from coal has significant benefits for our local air and water quality, but like many Great Lakes cities, Chicago remains dependent on fossil fuels. Natural gas prices are at all-time low, helping to making gas-burning facilities more economical than coal ones. The natural gas Southeast Chicago Energy Project came online in 2002, and Exelon claims it is one of the cleanest, most efficient, modern power plants in the U.S.
Even with natural gas growing in popularity, the move away from coal is promising for the health of Lake Michigan ecosystems and the health of our residents.
Rachel Belanger is a researcher in SOM’s City Design Practice and is located in Chicago.
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October 26, 2012
Newsmaker: Philip J. Enquist
RECORD chats with SOM’s Partner in Charge of Urban Design and Planning about the firm’s master plan for the Great Lakes.
By Joseph G. Maty
October 25, 2012
The Great Lakes and surrounding environs could sink well below the definition of “great” if this unique but often abused region of North America is ignored. That is the informal warning issued by Vision for the Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Region, a master plan recently crafted by the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). Philip J. Enquist, leader of the firm’s global city design practice, spearheaded the project. For drafting the plan, he will receive the inaugural Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) Award for Excellence in Design, Planning & Sustainability at the organization’s gala on November 10.
The Vision “addresses the phenomenal increase in human population, the impacts of urbanization, and the threat of climate change to the largest fresh water lake system in the world,” cites Chicago-based SAH in the award announcement. Enquist says the Vision plan was inspired by the 100th anniversary of Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago. What would a Burnham Plan for the 21st century look like? SOM’s team of planners identified a “family” of issues that command attention if the Great Lakes are to be protected and enhanced.
What inspired you to create this master plan?
I spend a tremendous amount of time with large-scale, complex problems, mostly dealing with emerging cities and global migration. On the flip side of that coin is the larger environment. Rather than putting boundaries or borders around urban areas, we sought to take a more holistic view of this unique geographic region and the challenges it faces in dealing with a myriad of issues that impact both human and natural health and wellbeing. The Great Lakes constitute 95,000 square miles of surface fresh water—20 percent of the world’s fresh water and the largest single collection of fresh water in the world, and more than 40 percent of the fresh water of North America. And yet we found there’s very little governing the protection or restoration—or future—of this amazing gift we’ve been given.
What did you learn from the process?
We wanted to understand what’s in place to protect this water, and what we could do as urban planners and designers to understand the issues facing us in this ecosystem, and what we can do in terms of guiding growth of urban areas and reducing the impact of man’s footprint, so we aren’t continuing to erode the quality of this resource. Just looking at the political boundaries, you can say no one’s in charge of this watershed. We came to a realization that agriculture is a real culprit. We’re putting nutrients and pesticides in the runoff going into the lakes, along with millions of gallons of raw sewage. There are issues with pharmaceutical wastes. And there are oceangoing ships loading iron ore from the Minnesota iron districts. These ships dump ballast water from all around the world, and this is a source of invasive species. We all know about the zebra mussels and quagga mussels and how they are taking over and competing with native fish. And then there is the Asian carp issue and the threat that they could get into the lakes.
What do you and SOM hope this ambitious plan may initiate or facilitate? What have you already seen in this regard?
If we can bring our countries (Canada and the U.S.) together and reduce waste dumped into our air and water, from fertilizer and salt runoff, coal power plants, ballast waters, sanitary sewers, pharmaceuticals, etc., we will ensure a cleaner environment and cleaner water for all future generations. The two countries have a global responsibility as stewards of one-fifth of the earth’s fresh surface water to protect this watershed. We are also seeing encouraging signs from mayors of cities along the Great Lakes, to rethink their city’s infrastructure systems, shift to renewable energy sources, close old coal power plants, introduce clean public transportation, and encourage water conservation measures. This century will prioritize the reengineering of our cities to put us in balance with nature.
What does SOM plan to do with the knowledge acquired from the development of this plan and its findings and recommendations? Is the firm spearheading any projects aimed at implementing these recommended initiatives?
Yes. We have taken our research on the Great Lakes and applied this to the South Works steel plant redevelopment site in Chicago. This is a 650-acre brownfield site that has been designed as a new urban neighborhood. Compact, transit-based and with a system that catches and returns to Lake Michigan 100% of the stormwater, it is the biggest reversal of a stormwater system planned in Chicago.
I also just recently led a Harvard Graduate School of Design studio on the Chicago River, to rethink how to clean up the river and engage this engineered water system into a better ecosystem for Chicago’s central city. The study has also affected and influenced our work in China (especially Beijing, a water-shortage region) and also our work in Saudi Arabia, to be smarter about using, recycling and capturing water.
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October 4, 2012
The Regional Scale: The story at the regional scale begins with an understanding of how the introduction of humans and human systems impact the metabolic flows of energy, information, and matter within the vast natural ecosystems of the region. There are, of course, issues of habitat modification, resource over-consumption, and pollution, but at the regional scale these problems often become even more complicated because of the artificial barriers to information flows erected by humans in the form of geopolitical jurisdictional boundaries.
The Great Lakes watershed in North America provides a very good study of the complexities of the regional scale, covering more than 295,000 square miles, accommodating over 50 million people, supporting North America’s highest volume freight transport system, and hosting an aggregated economy that that is larger by GDP than those of all but 6 countries in the world. By volume, the Lakes contain approximately 4,500 cubic miles of water, accounting for 84% of the surface fresh water in North America and 21% of the global total.
The current challenge is related not so much to the human consumption of the water (only about 4.2% of the population’s drinking water comes from the Lakes), but rather the systemic treatment of the water and the aquatic ecosystems. The ecosystems are being impacted by modern agricultural practices, the introduction of invasive species, climate change, and processes of industrialization, commercialization, and urbanization that lead to the breakdown of the natural ecosystem flows. All of these processes ultimately lead to changes in the molecular constitution of the water, rendering it unable to perform critical metabolic functions and leading to cascading breakdowns of metabolic flows throughout the connected ecosystems.
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September 14, 2012
Notes from the Great Lakes Restoration Conference session “Oil Pipelines in the Great Lakes, Threats and Solutions”:
In this case, “it” is the Great Lakes. Few people, me included, realize that 28,834 miles of hazardous liquid pipelines crisscross the Great Lakes states. On the last day of the 8th Annual Great Lakes Restoration Conference when hundreds of advocates are energized and poised to get back to the work of restoring the lakes, we hear of a looming threat that lies just beneath the surface. Enbridge Energy owns the aging infrastructure that cuts across the lakes and the states, and to date, there have been more than 80 spills on record.
Some startling statistics to consider:
- There have been 278 incidents in last 5 years.
- 3.87 million gallons of oil have been spilled in the last 5 years.
- Illinois alone has 7,423 miles of pipeline; 86 incidents of oils spills were recorded in the last 5 years; 974,946 gallons of oil spilled in the last 5 years; total property damage – all in all costing approximately more than $79M.
One of the pipelines carries 20mgd of crude oil and natural gas liquids and is lying in open water, unsupported across the Straits of Mackinac. Could a massive oil spill happen if these pipelines burst? Yes, very likely.
Recommendations from the panelists:
- The Great Lakes Commission and IJC should facilitate discussions among the states and provinces to improve pipeline regulation across the Great Lakes Basin.
- States should seek certification to regulate intrastate pipelines and to oversee interstate pipelines.
- States should be monitoring and reporting on the pipelines.
Now more than ever, we are in need of a president who is committed to protecting the Great Lakes. We need someone who believes in doing what’s right for the lakes – someone who is dedicated to improving aging infrastructure across the region, delisting AOCs, restoring the natural divide between Lake Michigan and the Chicago River thereby stopping the threat of Asian Carp, and most importantly supporting continued funding for on-the-ground projects that produce real results for the 30 million people that depend on a healthy Great Lakes.
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August 13, 2012
The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative released the report Sustainable Municipal Water Management: Measuring Progress and Reporting Publicly during the organization’s ninth annual meeting and conference held in in Québec City, June 26-28th, 2012. Mayors of the Cities Initiative made a commitment to working towards achieving sustainable municipal water management practices.
In the face of the cumulative impacts associated with urbanization, intensive agricultural activity, and climate change, municipalities are increasingly embracing an integrated approach to water management that captures the full spectrum of a community’s impact on water. This approach cuts across traditional municipal delivery areas, to include infrastructure design and operations, land use planning and approvals, public education and participation, emergency planning and response, pollution prevention, and habitat and shoreline restoration.
This shift in water management, from a narrower operational focus on water service delivery and wastewater treatment, to a broader notion of ‘sustainable water management’ marks a change that is already taking place within Cities Initiative member municipalities, and one that will take time to fully adopt, involving continuous improvement, innovation and evaluation.
The Declaration on Sustainable Municipal Water Management adopted by the Cities Initiative membership reflects this broader responsibility for protecting our water resources. Organized around six principles, the declaration sets out a series of indicators that may be used by a municipality to evaluate and report publicly on its progress towards:
- Water conservation and efficiency
- Water preparedness for climate change
- Water protection planning
- Water pollution prevention
- Shorelines and waterways restoration
- Shared water stewardship
More information on the Report, including member cities, and the Cities Initiative’s Green Cities Transforming Towards Sustainability program visit: www.glslcities.org/initiatives/greencities/smwm.cfm
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August 8, 2012
Written by the International Secretariat for Water.
Citizen Engagement: From Solitudes to Rallying
Great Lakes & St. Lawrence River and Gulf Symphony
The Great Lakes & St. Lawrence River and Gulf Symphony is an attempt to make everyone realize that all life on the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River and Gulf watershed hinges on interdependent relationships. On June 26 and 27, 2012, 40 participants from all over the basin – from Chicago, to Îles de la Madeleine, Lake Champlain and the lower North Shore – came to Quebec for the first citizens’ meeting organized by the International Secretariat for Water (ISW) and its partners.
During the work seminary – the preparations for which spanned a year and a half – participants devised common guidelines, identified conditions for improved citizen participation within integrated water resource management, and created the Citizen Engagement “From Solitudes to Rallying.”
On June 28, 2012, two representatives from the ISW and the International Network of Basin Organizations (INBO), and a representative from the North America Network of Basin Organizations (NANBO) were invited to present their preliminary findings to the Mayors of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, at the Annual Meeting and Conference in Quebec City.
Following that, the Engagement and an action plan proposal will be presented to other government bodies and interest groups.
The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence territory is a freshwater and saltwater basin containing 20% of the planet’s renewable freshwater reserves, of which only 1% is renewed every year. Many interdependent hydrological relationships are at play between ground water and water from the lakes, rivers, and Atlantic Ocean.
The First Nations were the first to live in the basin; as a result, they developed a strong relationship with water, through which they acquired inspiring knowledge and know-how.
Today, over 50 million people live in the basin, all of whose quality of life depends on its water resources. Although the population is primarily concentrated on the shores, the hydrographical territory extends hundreds of kilometres away from them.
Spread over 3000 kilometres, 6 Canadian provinces and 10 American states, the basin houses a patchwork of multifarious jurisdictions and governance mechanisms. It is a hub for the North American economy because of its vital importance for transport, commerce and communications.
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July 17, 2012
Written by the International Secretariat for Water. Presented to the Mayor’s of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative on June 28, 2012.
We decided to create this word “Basiners”, and present it to you today, because it reflects the idea of a common history, made of various political, economical, social, cultural, environmental and territorial stakes. We recognized how cultural, artistic and commercial exchanges have enriched us all and they cannot be separated. Consequently, by choosing the term “Basiner”, we want to underline this community of interest among peaceful people that wish to collectively take up the challenges of a shared, participative and integrated management of their basin.
Secondly, by pulling ourselves together we can create the 1st Symphony of the Great Lakes – Saint-Lawrence – Gulf basin. And I would like for you to welcome the first musicians of this Symphony, which are personified with a few inhabitants of this basin.We are Basiners, nous sommes des Bassinois.
Why a symphony you may ask? Because we are all reaching to attain a certain harmony of life on this basin: harmony not only between humans themselves, but between humans and their environment, the fauna and flora, but also the economic and social environment, between the different usages and stakes.
We recognize how difficult it is to develop and implement a concerted and shared vision, but we are convinced that if we use various ways and approaches we can get this vision to emerge. And this vision can also emerge and be implemented by opening up this symphony to other musicians, such as yourselves.
We also believe that we should not only see each other as Basiners, but we should also behold a one and only passport to accompany this vision and make our statement. And that is the BLUE PASSPORT. A passport that pushes this vision to go beyond boundaries and frontiers. This passport will remind us that we are born, live and need to cohabite with all our fellow Basiners. And that all our actions have a consequence on others. We reject the NIMBY syndrome since it often means in my neighbor’s backyard; because the Great Lakes Saint Laurence and Golf basin is our common backyard.
And finally, since we consider that multiple views, an emerging consensus, and the search for concerted and constructive solutions are at the heart of an integrated and participatory management, we hope that decision makers, managers, elected officials, all the stakeholders will work together and involve citizens in the sustainable development of this basin in order to make this collective shared vision a true symphony.
Je vous remercie, Thank you for your attention
Maggie White, Secrétaire Générale Associée du SIE
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