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The Free Water District (FWD) project demonstrates how urban crises can be used productively as a springboard for ideas. Combining the Rust Belt’s (the post-industrial zone in the United States, an area that spans from the northeast to the midwest) loss of population with its abundance of fresh water, the proposal outlines a strategy for re-densification of underutilised post-industrial landscapes. Free Water is used as a catalyst for attracting water-intensive industries to relocate from areas such as the Sun Belt – where water is scarce – to the Great Lakes region, where both water and urban industrial land are abundant. In exchange for free water, companies relocating to the FWD will play by a series of rules which allow them unlimited free water, but also the responsibility of working together in a shared megastructure-scaled public/private land/water partnership with a broad commitment to accelerate the revitalisation of the post-industrial landscape of the Great Lakes region.
The project begins with a distributed water infrastructure embedded in a series of bio-streets connected to the lake and organised by a central flood control plain that is itself several layers thick: public space, private building, landscape and water/waste management. Integrated in this central landscape is a research university. The combination of program, infrastructure and landscape generates a density of factory buildings around the central flood control plain. The factories recycle ‘waste’ water from their operations through a series of constructed wetlands to remediate adjacent post-industrial landscapes. Wetlands are designed as ecological treatment systems that make use of natural bioremediation processes to remove contaminants from factory wastewater. Once treated, water is carried back through the bio-streets, flood plain and wetlands to the lake. Ultimately, a network of Free Water Districts connected by the Great Lakes grows.