Invited Exhibition 50 Designers, 50 Ideas, 50 Wards

Venue: Chicago Architecture Foundation  

Curators: CAF, Sarah Dunn and Martin Felsen (Urban Lab), and Reed Kroloff

Team: Conor O'Shea (Hinterlands Urbanism and Landscape), Chris Bennett (Architectural Advisor), Aneesha Dharwadker (Editorial Advisor), Michael O'Shea (Community Outreach Advisor) 

Does Chicago’s ward system still make sense as a civic organizing device? What if we governed ourselves based on resource management, rather than political management?

Wasteland aligns Chicago’s political boundaries with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s intercepting sewer basins in order to encourage development. Seven basins replace the 50 ward system, each one led by a new elected official. Each basin is anchored by an existing wastewater reclamation plant which repurposes waste to generate new economic activity. This new model for 21st century biosolid-driven urbanism hybridizes development through new manufactured landscapes in areas of the region where job loss, pollution, and industrial decay persist. Chicago’s 9th Ward, where the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s second largest Wastewater Reclamation Plant sits side by side with former factory town of Pullman, is poised for redevelopment and an exciting test site for this strategy.

1: Align Boundaries

MWRD’s eight existing sewer catchment areas form Wasteland’s political boundaries. The fewer number of basins compared to the ward system increases government efficiency, and decision-making prioritizes water management.

2: Produce Wastewater

Blackwater produced in each of Wasteland's eight basins is delivered by the sewer catchment area to an associated wastewater reclamation plant (WRP). Each WRP is the political epicenter for each basin.

3: Manufacture Biosolids

Each wastewater reclamation plant turns blackwater into rich soils. Each basin can use these soils within its jurisdiction or export to neighboring municipalities. Leftover clean water is returned to Lake Michigan.

4. Urbanize
Rich soils are used as the basis for new urbanization strategies, with an emphasis on job creation and community engagement, including:
• redeveloping brownfields
• generating agroforestry economies
• linking fragmented habitats
• generating topography for a new tourism economy
• fertilizing depleted croplands
• sustaining existing and new community gardens