Skidmore Owings & Merrill has practiced architecture in Chicago since 1936, and were masters of the International Style, working all over the world. In 2009, partner Philip Enquist started thinking about the Great Lakes as as an natural entity rather than a border between two countries.
We found dozens of important efforts to clean and protect the Lakes and the St. Lawrence, but no comprehensive vision for their entire ecosystem. So we did what we do: took a comprehensive look at the natural setting, how unenlightened human hands had messed it up, and then created a set of strategic principles – to begin a broad-based, bi-national dialogue (which we had never done before). In the spring of 2009, SOM released “Recognizing a Global Resource: The Need for a 100-Year Vision for the Great Lakes, and St Lawrence River Region.” It touched a nerve in the 50 million people who live around the world’s largest reservoir of fresh water.
They have continued working, and have issued a call 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":
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.
It just makes sense; the Great Lakes hold 20% of the world's fresh water, and they are surrounded by much of the American rust belt and most of Canada's population. It needs careful, binational care and supervision. Philip Enquist says:
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.
Development patterns in North America are likely to change as the continent warms, perhaps even leading to a reverse migration from the sunbelt and a rebirth of the rustbelt cities. Southern states are going to continue to envy this resource. It needs all the planning and protection it can get. Congratulations to SOM for the Great Lakes Century