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Columnist
Firms develop an ecological vision of a future Chicago
By Hope Babowice | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 9/12/2007 12:14 AM

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"What will Chicago look like in 100 years?," asked Sarah Hidalgo, 10, a fifth-grader at O'Plaine School in Gurnee.

Recently, eight architectural, design and engineering firms were asked that same question, and each one created a model to illustrate their vision of the future. The History Channel staged a contest, "City of the Future: a Design and Engineering Challenge" to find out what Chicago will look like in the next century. The giant models are on exhibit through Oct. 7 at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry.

One model placed skyscrapers on the surface of Lake Michigan and used the lake to generate power to support the water-based community. Another firm dreamed up a house made of bio-chemicals and suggested that bio-engineered plants would be used to make clothes and building materials.

"Growing Water: Chicago, 2106," was the winning concept. Made by Chicago's UrbanLab architectural firm, the model shows an urban cityscape with broad avenues made of water.

UrbanLab's designers predict that water will become a scarce commodity. Residents today use one billion gallons of Lake Michigan water each day. That number will only go up as the population increases. Less than one percent of the water is returned and re-used.

The plan is for city streets to carry the mechanism that will replace used water. Water drawn from Lake Michigan will be piped into the skyscrapers where people live and work. Once used, it will be funneled into "Eco-Boulevards" that will contain micro-organisms like snails that will clean the water. The water will then be carried out to Lake Michigan, and the cycle will start again.

"The idea is to continually renew the resource rather than eventually exhaust it," said Martin Felsen of UrbanLab. This same type of system could be put into place in any city located near a water source, Felsen added.