Domenic Salpietra, AIA, regional leader of planning in Chicago, contributed a bylined article to RE Journals on designing a more sustainable future for his city.
The recent Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) brought together planners, activists and government officials in San Francisco to discuss a blueprint for a sustainable future and to commit to taking climate action.
The GCAS highlighted five key challenges for revising policy: healthy energy systems, transformative climate investments, sustainable communities, land and ocean stewardship and inclusive economic growth. As a Chicagoan and urbanist, the last two of these challenges hit home as I began to envision a more connected, sustainable Chicago.
Inclusive Economic Growth
Financial strategies only go so far in addressing the issue of inclusive economic growth. The second key factor is physical accessibility to and from these neighborhoods. The two go hand in hand: one connects the region economically, the other physically. Each effort supports the other’s potential. To improve mobility, we should focus on both economic developments around our existing transit infrastructure and a broad transit-oriented strategy for connecting designated business development neighborhoods that today are not adequately connected.
The city, focused on encouraging future development around existing transportation infrastructure, also needs to develop solutions to improve access to areas that do not have effective transit options. Rather than continuing the “neighborhood by neighborhood” strategy or the concentration on the connection of neighborhoods to the Loop, we need to improve links between neighborhoods, which together can act as a comprehensive ecosystem for improved accessibility and economic growth. With a carefully planned approach, inclusive economic growth could evolve from a simple job creation strategy to a bolder move toward equitable transit that results in both jobs and sustainable communities.
Land and Lake Stewardship
The GCAS highlighted land and ocean stewardship as another critical way of mitigating climate change and making the world more resilient. For our purposes in Chicago, where Lake Michigan is a dominant geographic and economic feature, I’ve redefined the GCAS’s “land and ocean stewardship” priority as “land and lake stewardship.” Given the declining supply of clean water across the globe, we can use Lake Michigan to establish a precedent for how to treat fresh water resources. Stewarding these resources forces us to ignore political borders and approach them as a singular natural system.
Perhaps the toughest question facing planners and architects is determining how we can maintain a sustainable landscape through both strategic development and “undevelopment.” This means exercising restraint so we can, in some instances, re-naturalize a landscape. In other cases we may place a cap on development that would not be fiscally responsible for certain townships. Or as companies vacate large suburban campuses and move to the city, retail and commercial activities in these areas may decrease and pressure the residential zones to also contract. It’s most important for us to focus spending in the right places to create the job opportunities, connectivity and economic activities required to keep an area thriving at the size the market dictates.
Our Shared Tomorrow
Our city’s future depends on our regional collaboration and ability to “think big,” but also enact strategic, pragmatic and effective plans for transforming our urban fabric. My challenge for all Chicagoans, policymakers, planners, architects and developers is to find new ways to come together to create a more connected Chicago.