5KL Water | Case Study: The Great Lakes

The Five Thousand Pound Life: Water, a symposium on issues of water supply in the context of climate change, examined case studies on Los Angeles, the Great Lakes region, and New York City. The event was organized by The Architectural League and The Cooper Union Institute for Sustainable Design.

The Great Lakes session brought together five experts to discuss and debate the problems and solutions facing North America’s primary source of fresh water.

Henry Henderson, in “Water, Infrastructure, and the Sustainable City,” looks to the impact of the built environment on the Great Lakes watershed. Focusing on the Chicago River, where the Mississippi River meets the Great Lakes, Henderson details the sewage and pollution issues that continue to plague local environments, neighborhoods, and the drinking water supply. In calling for enhanced visibility of water issues, Henderson asks us to acknowledge “how water, community, people, and our energy economy are deeply integrated.”

Peter Mulvaney (18:25) shares The Great Lakes Century, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s 100-year vision plan for the basin, a watershed that contains 20 percent of the earth’s and 84 percent of North America’s fresh water. Moving from the regional to the city scale, Mulvaney details specific conservation activities undertaken by the City of Chicago to save and recycle water, including a hydrant custodian program, a performance-based stormwater management ordinance, and an extensive municipal green roof effort.

Jen Maigret and Maria Arquero de Alarcón (34:21) turn their attention to another major Great Lakes city, Detroit, and the failings of its water infrastructure. The two call for “a sense of shared responsibility and common purpose” in the design of water systems, which they term “water civitas.” Outlining research on the stormwater and wastewater systems of Detroit and its suburbs, they present a vision for a new generation of green and blue water infrastructure that connects residents to their water system.

In a closing discussion (51:02), the presenters are joined by Ila Berman for a conversation on their ideas for this critical region.

For more, visit archleague.org/5klwater


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