Great Lakes Vision Plan

Tags for this project:
A map of the Great Lakes region showing the location of cities and a proposed high speed rail network.

Location: Great Lakes. Metropolis, City, and Town

SITE: The bi-national watershed region around the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence River covers 192 million acres and includes 11 thousand shoreline miles

Program: A 100-year vision inspired by the Plan of Chicago 

By 2050, forty-percent of the world is expected to face water shortages. The Great Lakes account for one-fifth of the world’s fresh water and serve a regional population of over 50 million. This region and watershed are currently threatened by a number of factors, including mercury leaks from coal-fired power plants; pesticide and high nutrient runoffs from agriculture and farming; sewer outflows and pharmaceutical wastes from cities; and carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from fossil fuel consumption. Authors of the Great Lakes Vision Plan, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM), sought to unite cities and towns within the vast Great Lakes region by focusing on these common challenges and the opportunities that lay within. 

The Great Lakes Vision Plan was adopted in 2010 and unanimously approved by 74 U.S. and Canadian mayors in the Basin. Inspired by Daniel Burnham’s historic “Plan of Chicago” from 1909, the project aimed to engage the broader public and regional leaders in meaningful and thoughtful discussion about the next 100 years of development in the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence River region. 

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP sought to redefine the design scale by strategizing at the watershed level of development and leveraging the synergistic relationship between multiple metropolitan areas. While planning at a large scale can be tricky, juror Shelley Poticha commented that urbanism is “more than just the individual neighborhood,” and commended the Plan for “setting a vision that is broader than the desires of any one community.” To think effectively on this larger scale, authors created common measures for cities, industries and agriculture within the watershed. These reference points helped establish buy-in from potential participants by allowing them to indentify how and where they fit within the larger picture.

With water as the regional connector, the Plan describes strategies to maximize and enhance the potential of this natural resource and the surrounding communities. Expansion of urban development directly correlates to the availability of fresh water; therefore, the Plan advocates for limiting the urbanization of currently undeveloped land to protect existing watersheds. Additionally, demographic and housing shifts in many Great Lakes cities over the past few decades have led to a sharp disinvestment in inner cities and an overabundance underutilized urban land. The Plan’s goal is to serve future generations and population growth by encouraging infill and redevelopment of these available lands. 

The Plan challenges individuals to look at the current situation with a critical eye and consider opportunities that will increase the longevity of life and the environment, such as smarter farming strategies and investment in organic farming. It looks to capitalize on the education and intelligence of regional residents through the creation of a forum and “global classroom” focused on a green vision for the region. It asks individuals and communities to look beyond their walls and city limits to consider how to best connect with others in the region, and includes a proposed rapid transit corridor that would connect Chicago and Toronto.

In the first four years since adoption, the project has engaged scientists, politicians, environmentalists, businesses, and public policy advocates. Forging consensus across several levels of government and political boundaries including state/provincial, municipal and Indian/First Nation – has proved challenging, but a partnership with a nonprofit focused on convening elected officials across the basin has given the design team the ability to engage key political stakeholders. Moving forward, outreach and education efforts will continue, supplemented by the creation of a regional design toolkit for Great Lakes mayors.

Read more at this project's website.

Transect Zone(s): T1 natural, T2 rural, T3 sub-urban, T4 general, T5 center, T6 core, SD district.
Status: Plan Approved
Project or Plan's Scale: Region
Features: Rail/fixed guideway transit, Sustainable infrastructure, Transit oriented development, Waterfront.
Land area (in acres): 192000000
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Project team designers: Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill
Project team developers: N/A

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Starting/Ending date of construction/implementation: -