SOM announces Urgent “Call to Vision” for the Great Lakes

Courtesy of SOM

Today the world celebrates its most precious resource: water. Countries world-wide suffer from water shortages so extreme that they cannot produce enough food to support their basic needs. In an effort to protect the World’s largest source of surface fresh water, the City Design Practice of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) is gaining international support in their pro bono pursuit to create a 100-year vision that will environmentally protect and economically revitalize the entire U.S. and Canada region, a vision known as The Great Lakes Century.

“The availability and quality of fresh water to sustain a radically urbanizing world is unquestionably a core issue of our time and requires holistic environmental thinking at an unprecedented scale,” said Philip Enquist, SOM partner in charge of urban design worldwide.

Continue reading for more information on this important cause.

Led by design partner Philip Enquist, The Great Lakes Century initiative asks for people to abandon the idea of borders as they call for two countries to come together to solve these large water problems. We must think of the Great Lakes holistically and focus our thinking on the future of the World’s urban water supply. Dozens of important efforts to clean and protect the Lakes and the St. Lawrence exist, but there has yet to be a comprehensive vision for their entire ecosystem.

Endorsed by 86 American and Canadian mayors, honored by the American Institute of Architects, and the keynote presentation at international conferences, the SOM city design studio’s volunteer initiative – begun in 2009 as its contribution to the Burnham Plan Centennial – is helping to catalyze a shared regional vision among national, tribal, provincial and local governments, environmentalists, legal experts, public policy leaders, the media and the public.

SOM’s call to vision intends to reverse environmental degradation throughout the basin defined by the 11,000-mile shoreline of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence and to revitalize its USD $2-trillion regional economy, sometimes called “the cradle of the carbon economy.”

After studying the damaging impacts of coal-fired power plants, invasive species like the Asian carp, and urban sewage overflows and agricultural runoff, the SOM team has created a set of eight strategic principles to stimulate a broad-based, bi-national dialogue focused on the future of the Lakes.

  • Green cities and Great Lakes – restoring a healthy relationship between city and nature
  • Bigger than a national park – envisioning a single, borderless region of natural and cultural heritage and a global example of international peace and environmental cooperation
  • 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 the region with high speed rail, walkable neighborhoods with transit, and adjoining communities via bikeways
  • Leaders in new economies – focusing economic growth on environmentally sustainable industries and technologies to meet global water needs
  • Commitment to local food – supporting healthier people and healthier land with a regional, sustainable food system

SOM has been asked to present its catalyzing preliminary design to key stakeholders, including the International Joint Commission, state and provincial Leaders, Canadian and American mayors, the National Parks Conservation Association, The Brookings Institution, the MOWAT Centre of at the University of Toronto, and the Great Lakes Roundtable, and on Capitol Hill, among others.

The Lakes contains 20% of world’s fresh water and is responsible for sustaining a population of 50 million. This dialogue is an essential start to an extremely important cause. So please, share your ideas and feedback on the initiative’s blog here.

TEDxMillCity: Image There Are No Boarders / Philip Enquist

Cite: Rosenfield, Karissa. "SOM announces Urgent “Call to Vision” for the Great Lakes" 22 Mar 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 21 Dec 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=219471>
  • Elijah Hughes

    This is an important issue and I am glad SOM agrees. I just don’t see anyone getting riled up by this lame slideshow.

  • Paul Heltne

    A great Enquist idea.

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