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Dispatches from a Post-Water Chicago
Growing Water by UrbanLab

We failed to mention it when it was chosen to represent Chicago in the History Channel-sponsored “City of the Future” competition, and then failed again when it beat out the other two notable entries from New York and Los Angeles. For a Chicago-based blog with an extraordinarily abnormal interest in hydrology, hydroengineering and hydropolitics, this is downright criminally negligent.

So to make amends, we'll take some excerpts from a recent article in the Chicago Reader on the winning proposal: Growing Water by Sarah Dunn and Martin Felsen of UrbanLab.

Growing Water by UrbanLab

Rather than collecting and transporting wastewater through a mindbogglingly complex network of sewers to a massive central building complex, the whole city becomes one giant ecological machine treating and recycling 100% of the water it uses: “A series of 50 'eco-boulevards' spaced every half mile from Rogers Park to Roseland would run east-west from Lake Michigan to the subcontinental divide between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins at about Harlem Avenue--thin green ribbons running across the city that would replace pavement with green space, greenhouses, and wetlands for the treatment of waste and storm water.”

Not only will these eco-boulevards clean up wastewater and act as temporary storage sites for storm water, they will double as parklands as well, a new green infrastructure to supplement the city's “Emerald Necklace” of public parks, boulevards and waterways. New constructed wetlands, prairies and forests, botanical gardens, organic farms, fishing holes and swimming ponds, wildlife preserves and woodland trails to remake the city in the image of its own motto: Urbs in Horto, or City in a Garden.

Furthermore, “each eco-boulevard would jut out into Lake Michigan and end in a man-made peninsula to accomodate solar arrays, wind turbines, and geothermal wells to power the treatment processes. 'Terminal Parks' would mark the eco-boulevard's western extremes. These large green spaces would be surrounded by a residential and work complexes to accommodate returnees from the outer suburbs,” possibly reducing sprawl.

Growing Water by UrbanLab

Growing Water by UrbanLab

Of course, this will make two of Chicago's great engineering feats redundant. Firstly, the Chicago River, which was reversed in 1900 by the 28-mile-long Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, can be re-reversed so as not to drain freshwater any further from the lake and then dump this increasingly precious commodity into the Gulf of Mexico where it becomes useless.

Secondly, the multi-decade, multi-billion dollar 109-mile Deep Water Tunnel will be converted for new subway lines, which will alleviate increased urbanization. But while those billions taken out of taxpayers may not be recovered, other cities may be inspired to find less expensive alternatives to wastewater treatment and stormwater management.

Growing Water by UrbanLab

For those in Chicago next week on June 8th, the model built for the competition, as well as the other two finalists and the other Chicago entries, will go on display at the Museum of Science and Industry.

  • Anonymous
  • October 3, 2007 at 11:04:00 AM CDT
  • ah yes. renderings can loss over those raccoon, rat, shit-filled and disease infested boulevards anyday.

  • Anonymous
  • November 28, 2008 at 2:28:00 PM CST
  • Ahh yes, whenever somebody comes up with an idea to try to make things better, there always has to be some stupid nay-sayer coming out of the woodwork to criticize...

  • Brian Davis
  • September 18, 2009 at 12:25:00 PM CDT
  • well, the first poster was being snarky but they have a good point. in general, these types of proposals are accompanied by renderings that are disingenuous at best. it's not just the artistic liberty, but that the images totally deny the essence of "eco" spaces; that is, they are staging grounds/infrastructure for complex, organic (organic matter, not blobby shapes), and social activities. they are messy and interesting with patinas and stains. the above renderings are pretty vapid and superficial. for me, it doesn't do justice to an otherwise interesting idea.

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