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Great Lakes' cities brace for climate change

Marc Lefkowitz  |  08/22/13 @ 11:00am  |  Posted in Transform

What is climate change doing to the water levels in the Great Lakes? Setting up a roller-coaster pattern of highs and lows. Lakes Michigan and Huron sunk while Erie was higher than normal this year, The International Joint Commission reports. Expect an unpredictable future, IJC adds.

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In this century, Lake Erie could lose a few feet of water. Cast over the entire Great Lakes basin, the impact will be felt by industry, fishing, tourism to the tune of tens of billions of dollars of lost revenue, and unknown ecological change. The IJC’s response? They’re calling for an “adaptive management” strategy. In other words, they confirm that climate change has arrived, but put little stock in the U.S. and Canada responding in time to alter the course of impact to the Great Lakes. How scary is it that the largest international body ever assembled to study the Great Lakes now admits that climate change is here, will probably not be addressed in time, and that we should start studying the best way to brace for its impact? For those who liked the people mover to Canada, we might have a nice land bridge across the lake for your grandchildren. National Geographic covers the issue in “Where did the water go? Busting five myths about water levels on the Great Lakes.”

The Cleveland Climate Action Plan also splits time between battling and bracing for the impact of climate change. The City of Cleveland studied its carbon footprint and ways of reducing its millions of pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. It is notable that—aside from the giant blast furnaces in the Flats—poor-performing buildings and not enough transportation options are probably the biggest area to focus on mitigating the problem of pumping too much carbon in to the air and water.

At a public meeting in April, 2013, the city had to field calls to make a stronger play for mitigation. For transportation, an emergent strategy is doing more to promote transit and transit-oriented development (TOD). We reiterate the public’s call to the city to move with a sense of urgency in adopting a strategy, with action steps, that produces more transit and transit-oriented development; for a win-win in carbon emission reductions from transportation and land-use. Models for Cleveland in this regard arrived most recently from Cincinnati, which has a pilot form-based code and a streetcar coming online at the same time. Cleveland could learn from Cincy’s aggressive play in policy and transportation investments with a dividend in more low-carbon “neighborhoods of choice.”

Supporting the case for more TODs in Cleveland is a report that downtown in the second quarter of 2013 notched gains in new retail tenants and demand for downtown living remained strong. Downtown Cleveland Alliance’s Market Update confirms that downtown office occupancy rates gained 3% and residential stayed in the sky-high 95% range for nine consecutive quarters. The market is responding to demand for downtown living—565 new housing units came online in the city with another 1,000 units expected in the next 12 months (the majority from converting older office buildings, an inherently greener option). The city is planning $355 million in public space improvements, from a redesigned Public Square to a pedestrian bridge linking the Mall to the lakefront. DCA also notes a bright spot for retail—31 new restaurants and shops opened in downtown thus far in 2013.

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