Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Chicago: Center of the Great Lakes Ecopolis

Several years, it occurred to me that the REALLY big opportunity in the Chicago area - from the standpoint of the long term, taking into account future developments - is for real estate and related development that connects up communities throughout the Great Lakes area.

The Great Lakes: Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron,
Lake Erie, Lake Ontario (Image: NASA)

As I became more deeply aware of the treasure that we have in the Great Lakes, and the way that so much of the Great Lakes coast is underused -- relative to other places in the world where people clamor for the chance to be near the water -- it seemed more and more to me that the future lies in connecting up the urban areas that ring the lakes.

Chicago: Lake Michigan meets megapolis
(These thoughts were partly influenced by time I spent volunteering with the Alliance for the Great Lakes, partly by long hours spent traveling to see my daughter in northern Michigan, partly by my time spent earlier in my life at the New Jersey shore, and partly by daily proximity to Chicago's lakefront.)

For instance, imagine if the benefits that Chicago has enjoyed through the stewardship of its lakefront could be extended to all of the cities and other communities that adjoin Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes.  Imagine if there was high quality public transit that enabled people to enjoy traveling between all of the communities on the lakes - preferably providing beautiful views of the lakes in the course of the rides.

Those of us who live in Chicago tend to be focused on how amazing it is to have a metropolis next to the water.

Of course, another whole part of the Great Lakes experience is spectacular natural settings.

The unique strength of our Great Lakes communities, of course, is that they combine access to abundant fresh water with relative stable shorelines. This is at a time when many otherwise desirable communities face water shortages and/or the threat of rising sea levels.

Point Betsie

I was reminded of this by a news story ("Portland Will Still Be Cool, but Anchorage May Be the Place to Be: On a Warmer Planet, Which Cities Will Be Safest?" by Jennifer A. Kingson in The New York Times, September 23, 2014) reporting on analysis by Climate Central and others. The story suggests (with a slight hint that the reporter finds this ironic) that Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and even Detroit are likely to be highly preferable locations in the years ahead.

Considering how close all of these places are to each other, why don't we link them up for maximum synergy?

Midwest High Speed Rail Association vision for tiers of Midwest rail service

So here's what I suggest we should be thinking about next:

(1) How can a high quality rail network (including high-speed rail) be used to successfully connect this "Great Lakes Ecopolis"?

(2) A network that encompasses the Great Lakes necessarily includes Canadian cities. We should be talking to (and learning from) our neighbors.

(3) Every state has an economic development office. Are the offices of the states that surround the Great Lakes talking with each other about how the Great Lakes region can put its best foot forward?

Related posts

Some people in high places are starting to take the climate crisis seriously, as least as it relates to the New York metropolitan area.
But when all is said and done, the impression one gets from current plans is that our leaders believe, "We can construct our way out of this."

(See NYC + H2O = Uh-oh! on Scarry Thoughts)

A bit more about the odds of holding back the ocean ... from an old New Jersey boy ....

(See NJ Sense and Wising Up to the Climate Crisis on Scarry Thoughts)

What if we had a massive region in the heart of the country pushing back against the war-crazed conventional wisdom of "more weapons," "more consumption," and "more destruction of the environment"?

(See Another Modest Proposal: A Green, Demilitarized Midwest! on Scarry Thoughts)

Other related links

September 24, 2014 - "E.P.A. Unveils Second Phase of Plan to Reverse Great Lakes Damage" by Michael Wines in The New York Times: The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan II "will include a new attempt to buffer the lakes against the effects of climate change. It will require, for example, that new wetlands include plants that can thrive in warmer temperatures."