Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, Chicago, IL
Client: Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative
15,000 Political Jurisdictions:
Future planning must span national, state/provincial, county, and First Nation/Indian and municipal boundaries. Data Sources: US Indian Atlas of the United States: Indian Lands of the United States, Natural Resources Canada, ESRI
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The Great Lakes Century is a pro-bono initiative that inspires stakeholders in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin to envision and take action towards a prosperous and sustainable future. The initiative advances a 100-year vision for the watershed focused on environmental protection, smart growth, and economic revitalization. By employing powerful graphics and urban design principles, the design team has successfully gained support for this holistic, comprehensive regional vision.
—2013 Professional Awards Jury
Hundreds of millions of people worldwide lack a sustained source of fresh water – a number projected to grow exponentially so that by 2050 over 40 percent of the world will face water shortages. Considering that the Great Lakes contain 1/5 the world's surface fresh water, improving the health and resiliency of this asset is an imperative of our time. Restoring ecosystems and building a stronger economy requires holistic thinking at an unprecedented scale -- a binational watershed that is home to 50 million people.
To celebrate the Burnham Plan Centennial in 2009, the design team took a bold view of the region's future. Despite hundreds of important efforts to clean and protect the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, none addressed the binational watershed comprehensively as a whole ecosystem. The vision document, “Recognizing a Global Resource: The Need for a 100-Year Vision for the Great Lakes, and St Lawrence River Region,” identified the basin's most pressing issues and opportunities for the next 100 years of development. These issues range from coal-fired power plants that emit mercury, to agriculture that creates high-nutrient and pesticide runoffs, to cities that are depleting groundwater resources. The ways we use land and operate business have to change if we hope to conserve and protect this scarce resource.
The vision communicates eight strategic principles:
- Bigger than a national park – envisioning a single, borderless region of natural and cultural heritage and a global example of international peace and stewardship
- Green cities and Great Lakes – restoring a healthy relationship between city and nature
- Great minds and Great Lakes – focusing the region's world-renowned research institutions on innovating a post-carbon economy
- Blue is the new green – achieving clean, drinkable, swimmable, fishable water and ensuring its availability forever
- Tapping renewable energy – innovating beyond coal and oil to the region's abundant sources of eternal, renewable energy
- Achieving mobility – reducing carbon and synergizing economic capacity by connecting urban centers with high-speed rail, adjacent communities with bikeways, and compact neighborhoods with transit.
- Leaders in new economies – anchoring economic growth in environmentally sustainable industries
- Commitment to local food – supporting healthier people and healthier land
Reaching over 10,000 stakeholders, decision-makers, residents and advocates within the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Basin in total, the project has utilized multiple channels to reach a wide audience.
The Great Lakes Century vision has been presented as the keynote and plenary address at over 20 international conferences and meetings. Because the intent of the project is to inspire a new way of thinking about the Great Lakes region, presentations are vital for engaging regional stakeholders. Highlights of speaking engagements include the following: the Great Lakes Legislative Caucus Meeting in Cleveland; Design Futures Council in Portland, Oregon; Alliance for the Great Lakes in Chicago; First Great Lakes St. Lawrence Symphony in Quebec City; Canadian Water Network Board Meeting in Chicago; Greenbuild International Summit in Toronto; Shedd Aquarium Board of Trustees Meeting in Chicago; Hong Kong Institute of Architects in Hong Kong; International Association for Great Lakes Research in Toronto; TEDxMillCity in Minneapolis; International Joint Commission in Windsor; and Healing Our Waters Conference in Duluth.
Online Communications (Blog and Twitter)
The Great Lakes Century blog is a forum for sharing ideas about the future planning and development of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin. Edited by SOM's City Design Practice, the blog promotes a 100-year vision of the watershed and empowers stakeholders to implement best practices in urban and regional planning. Leaders across the basin – designers, researchers, and other advocates – are invited to contribute original research and commentary on this topic. Over 8,000 visitors have explored the vision through our blog. Our twitter handle, @GreatLakes2110, shares important insights and information related to the future of the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes Century video, produced in collaboration with the award-winning design firm Thirst, helps viewers to envision one region without borders. The bilingual film enumerates several ways that the Great Lakes inspire change and "invite us to realize the full potential of their gift." The video captures the beauty of the region's natural assets and creates a sense of shared identity among viewers. To date, the video has received approximately 2,500 views on the Great Lakes Century blog and through sites such as ArchDaily.
In 2010, the Great Lakes Century vision was unanimously endorsed by the 74 Mayors of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative to be the basis of further regional planning efforts.
- "Architectural Record chats with SOM's Partner in Charge of Urban Design and Planning about the firm's master plan for the Great Lakes. Newsmaker: Philip Enquist," Joseph G. Maty, October 2012
- i4design Magazine, "The Great Lakes Century," 2012
- Urban Wisdom, a Chinese publication on planning and development, "A Hundred-Year Prospect about the Great Lakes: SOM's Initiative," 2012
- Treehugger, "SOM Architects Call for a 100-Year Vision for the Great Lakes," Lloyd Alter, March 2012
- Planning Magazine, "What would Burnham Say?" December 2011
- Atlantic Cities, "A Regional Vision for the Great Lakes," Nate Berg, October 2011
- The Vancouver Sun, "Architectural firm creates 'exciting vision' for Great Lakes," Dylan Kristi, October 2011
- The Globe and Mail, "Great Lakes proposal envisions Canadians, Americans working together," Renata D'Aliesio, October 2011
Honors & Recognition
The Great Lakes Century Vision has received a number of high honors in regional planning, urban design, and conservation leadership, including the 2010 Healing Our Waters Special Recognition Award; 2011 AIA Chicago Regional and Urban Design Award; 2011 Chicago Athenaeum Green Good Design Award; 2013 American Institute of Architects Regional and Urban Design Award; and the 2013 Metropolis Magazine's Game Changers Award.