It’s All About Water

The way Chicago and Quebec City are connected is all about the 2000 mile Great Lakes watershed. 80% of North America’s surface water is here. Yet we still don’t look at this as a resource, but mostly a way to move waste away from Cities.
Phil Enquist, an architect and partner at SOM, presented a keynote last Friday at the Canadian Institute of Planners conference in Quebec City. He showed us some of the work he and his firm have done on the Great Lakes basin. He titled the project “Great Cities, Great Lakes, Great Basin.” I’ve captured some of his talk here.

The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Initiative is an organization of mayors along this watershed. 

At the Chicago Architectural Foundation, an exhibit raises awareness of what the Great Lakes Watershed is, and what can be and is being done to protect their s resource. Questions asked include “What can basin cities learn from each other?”
Drought is a major issue for the US. Great lake levels will probably be reduced in coming years due to increased evaporation as the earth warms. 

Phil Enquist’s project on exhibit at the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Photo from SOM.
Other challenges for the region include shrinking cities and the prevalence of non-renewable energy use (coal) that is adding Mercury to the lakes. 
The project has been renamed “The Great Basin Century” in recognition that it’s about more than just the lakes. 

Can we see this region as composed of “innovation belts” both past and future? A great example is south Chicago’s Theaster Gates. 

Can we look at connecting this region with high speed rail? The potential exists to connect the entire east coast and Great Lakes Basin in this way. 

Copenhagen puts 4% of its waste in a landfill. Chicago today puts 90%. We can do better. 

Growing food better is key to cleaning up our water. Recent algae blooms have been the result of not so careful agricultural practices. Here too we can do better.

The Brookings Institution has studied the economic benefit of environmental clean up of the Great Lakes. Essentially the pay off would be double the investment cost.

The Calumet watershed is a case study undertaken as part of the Great Basin project. Roughly the size of the San Francisco Bay Area, this is a lakefront area with really no vision. The first step is to regain the lake front. Next, protect green space. Thirdly create innovation hubs. 

The second case study Phil has undertaken is Detroit. Together with a French Landscape architect, they’re studying turning Detroit’s public lands into wetlands that help clean the city’s water before it goes into the river.

Phil asked the planners in the room to be brave with their proposals. Think in a utopian way, even when clear financing strategies aren’t yet known. He says we need the US and Canada to work together in new ways. 

Biophilia: A Way To Build Better Cities

Humans have an evolutionary need to affiliate with nature. This is the premise of a book published in 1984 by Edward O. Wilson, called Biophilia. In my own life I find this to be true, and I’ve often felt frustrated living in larger cities like Chicago, Washington DC, or Toronto where access to nature is hampered by long travel times and congested freeways. 

Permit me a little civic / capital pride in saying that Ottawa, by contrast with some of these cities, has an excellent balance of urban and natural settings within 30 minutes’ drive from its core.

Ottawa from the air. Photo from NCC. 

Skidmore Owings & Merril’s urban designers together with University of Tennessee have put the principles of biophilia, as Mr. Wilson set them out 30 years ago, to work in addressing the challenges of contemporary city building, sustainability, and co-existence with nature. Led by SOM partner and architect Philip Enquist, they have proposed nine principles that are intended to drive urban growth in harmony with nature. I’ve listed them below:

1. Livibility; happy and healthful urban living that creates a sense of place and local identity.

2. Economy; broad based prosperity for the city or region.

3. The food principle; offering access to locally grown fresh edibles.

4. Mobility; providing efficient networks for movement of people, materials, and information.

5. No waste; focuses on designing cities Tom minimize garbage.

6. Safety; ensure streets can be used comfortably by all types of users.

7. Water; protect and enhance natural hydrologic cycles.

8. Resiliency; design cities that are able to withstand extreme weather and adapt to climate change.

9. Energy; power cities with clean, renewable energy and reduce consumption.

Enquist’s Chicago Lakeside Masterplan. Image from SOM.


Building Tall With Wood

Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM), architect of many of the world’s better known taller buildings has released a study called Timber Tower Research Project sponsored by the Chicago based Softwood Lumber Board.

The study benchmarks a building that employs concrete as its primary structural system against a new proto type that employs timber, concrete, and steel to achieve a carbon footprint reduction of 60-70 percent as compared with the bench mark.

Parameters for the project focus on cost, constructibility, and fire resistance and extensive testing will now be required to confirm feasibility of this new building technology.

the subject of building with wood is of great interest for it environmentsl benefits and in a related article published by iPolitics, together with Andre Albinati of Earnscliffe Strategy Group proposed that Canada develop its own green building standard which better acknowledges wood construction as having environmental benefits.

SOM: Timber Tower Research Project wood construction published in iPolitics: Building a Green Canada Brand