In 1969 Ohio’s Cuyahoga River, a tributary of Lake Erie that meanders through Akron and Cleveland, combusted into flames after years of pollution and waste accumulated along its shorelines. While this was not the first time the river caught on fire, it ignited the nation’s attention and inspired significant environmental action, including the creation of our Clean Water Act, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Nearly forty years later, Lake Tai, China’s third largest freshwater lake, was engulfed in a mat of blue-green algae large enough to be seen from space. The toxic bloom left 2 million people without drinking water for a week. Within the last decade, Lake Tai has been overwhelmed by pollution from rapid development, harmful industry, and chemical-heavy agriculture practices.
In the wake of these infamous events, the U.S. federal government and China’s central government have invested billions of dollars to clean up and redevelop their lakefronts. While the cost of a second chance to create a healthy balance between economic development and environmental integrity is steep, it also leaves an invaluable legacy of hope.
Cities along Lake Tai have agreed upon a bold ecological framework that sets back future development and wraps the lake in a thick band of reconstructed wetlands to filter runoff. In the U.S., Great Lakes cities are reclaiming industrial land, lot-by-lot along the shore, to remediate soils and build a foundation for future growth. We at SOM have had the privilege of working with forward-thinking municipalities in master planning these “second chances” from Wuxi, China to Chicago, Illinois.
On March 22, 2012, in celebration of the United Nations’ World Water Day, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill’s (SOM) City Design Practice launched the Great Lakes Century Vision video. The goal of the video, produced in collaboration with the award-winning design firm Thirst, was to broadcast and garner international support for a bold 100-year vision for the environmental and economic renewal of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence region.