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G-Sync: A Not So Silent Spring

Over the last few weeks, a series of articles from outsiders have dropped on our unique place in time on this planet... and yes, I mean the entire world.

Each one has revealed perspectives about the things we create or emulate here to not only celebrate, but to also take to heart. They might even provide a glimpse into something we have been championing for a long time: the era of innovation and its implementation.

The first one of note was Time Magazine’s "Five Festive Events You Won’t Want to Miss in 2013," celebrating ArtPrize as number four on this list. The second was Bill Moyer’s "12 Cities Leading the Way in Sustainability." Grand Rapids landed at number nine, surrounded by an impressive array of cities. Lastly, it was a slightly quieter and off-the-beaten-path article in Metropolis that caught my eye.  

The profile piece, "Planning The Great Lakes Century," squarely focused on Chicago architect Phil Enquist, a partner at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. Enquist is in charge of charge of urban design and planning, and the article details his vision to repurpose areas of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence river basin, beginning with the 600-acre site of a former U.S. Steel Plant south of Chicago, sitting against Lake Michigan. This is the starting point for a discussion around what the next 100 years would look like.  

He is fulfilling his grand vision on a smaller scale that is sure to inspire boldness in others to do the same.

This article is the sort reporting that makes any urbanist sit up and take notice. With all the stories that focus on what we have already accomplished, it is Enquist’s vision and his gaze forward that is refreshing and challenging for the interested reader.  If we are to move forward as a city, state, and even region, then we need to begin to assess what resources we have and how we intend to capitalize on them in the future.  

Enquist’s vision of a future points to many of the things we are already pioneering here in an eight-point strategic view of our Great Lakes future. Enquist calls for, among other items, greater harmony in living with nature, investing in renewables (and quickly), and even proposing that blue is the new green, advocating for protection of our fresh water above all else as the planet dries up.

We should all take notice when Enquist sounds this alarm in the article:

 “It is frustrating to go to China and see a national infrastructure investment that takes your breath away. We’ve got to have a revved-up view of the future.”

Why the call for aggressive movement on our part? Simply put: can we expect this area of the world to remain a secret forever?

Population studies, according to Enquist, indicate that this region of the country could grow from 55 million to 71 million by 2050.

According to the United Nations Global Trends Report, greater than 81 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2030. But in order to ensure that we are ready, we have to start planning now for that future; we must lead, and it can begin here.

If blue is the new green, then it is time to move aggressively forward with policies that reflect this reality. This includes fulfilling the mandates as stewards of such a vast natural resource. The Great Lakes are the fourth largest body of fresh water in the world, and will be the true source of so much of our worth to the planet in this century.

Given my word count requirements, it may not be prudent to take on fracking near the end of my column, but be warned that this cheap and off the grid activity where ingredients used in the process of extraction are poisoning fresh water in other parts of the country is dangerous and, according to Enquist, a threat to our future success.  

Fracking activities have caused families to import water to care for their basic needs when it used to flow clean and fresh through the faucet in their homes. This is not a calling card for our region anyone wants in print.

Many of us understand the need to protect company secrets. But in order to protect the purity of our water, companies that use the fracking process must begin to reveal exactly what is in the “cocktail” they pump into the ground to extract natural gas.  

I understand that this is considered proprietary, but the reality is that anything that comes close to a source that is vital to life and in the public trust demands such disclosure.

And in case you think errors cannot happen here, then I invite you to visit G-Sync Events where I showcase a brand new documentary, Tainted Michigancreated by WZZM's Healthy You's Val Lego that examines the PBB contamination in Michigan that resulted in two years of meat and dairy products being fed to our state's population before the "human error" was discovered.  

It is estimated that nine out of 10 Michigan residents were exposed to this mistake that has contributed to an increase in cancer. It was a disaster we are still paying for in our state because of PBB's long half life. These types of errors in our history remind us to be ever vigilant.

After all, 50 years ago, another woman lent her voice and created a book that we still credit today for changing the way we look at the environment. As Rachel Carson's Silent Spring moves toward the century mark in print, let’s advance with it.

Carson, as well as people like Enquist, believe a rising tide lifts all boats. And in our region, we must work to ensure it is on a body of the world’s freshest and, most of all, cleanest water. After all, 33 percent of our mass is devoted to water. This is a critical mass.

The Future Needs All of Us.

Tommy Allen
Lifestyle Editor

To read up on the latest and greatest events in our region including the new documentaryTainted Michigan , please visit G-Sync Events.

Editor’s Note: If you would like to read more of what Phil Enquist is imagining, please visit his blog, The Great Lakes Century.
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