By Ted C. Fishman
The old stark skyline is gone. It’s Chicago, April 2068. Gardens grow on the sides of skyscrapers that house the city’s 20 million residents, many of them refugees from coastal regions consumed by the sea. The vertical gardens absorb rainwater, which is then used to irrigate flowers and vegetables—and to flush toilets. Across from Lincoln Park Zoo, on the balconies of the 90-story Ken Griffin Tower, the world’s largest single-family residence, are 2,400 trees, 30,000 native plants, and 100 bird species, including hens for eggs.
The city’s greenest neighborhood, North Lawndale, is also its trendiest. Old-timers in that West Side neighborhood can still remember the crime-ridden days before the city installed the first parks engineered to stop flooding. Now every block features fountains animated by rainwater, which then feed small streams and irrigate fruit trees and greenhouses. Amazon Market ships prized Chicago-grown apples and pears to affluent foodies all over the country. “Resilient parks” like these fill nearly every ward in the city, creating a vast chain of green space that doubles as an infinitely capacious reservoir.
Despite the intense rain and snow that global warming inflicts on northeastern Illinois, the floods that once plagued Chicago have ended. Thousands of square miles of highways, roads, and parking lots are paved with materials that let water pass through. Tiny solar panels in the roadways ensure that the surface temperature never drops below 33 degrees. That helped the region abandon salt for melting ice, a necessity given the amount of local land and groundwater that was ruinously salinated.
In the early part of the century, the asphalt-choked city was a sweltering “heat island.” On hot summer nights, neighborhoods away from the lake—starved for trees and grass back then—could be 20 degrees warmer than less developed towns to the west. Now the permeable surfaces actually cool Chicago—enough to almost counteract the rise in temperatures from climate change.
Abundant freshwater has been key to the area’s growth. When Amazon brought its second headquarters to Chicago in 2022, the city’s relatively stable climate and access to the lake was a clincher. Most of the 50,000 employees are gone now, replaced with robots and drones. But Amazon still needs the city’s water: It cools the company’s fusion energy generators. Chicago’s aquatic resources have spurred other innovation, too. When a 100-acre indoor almond orchard opened last year inside the Old Main Post Office, dark since the last century, former Californians who remembered when nut trees could grow in their state formed a drum circle and lifted glasses of Fox Valley Pinot, made from grapes transplanted from drought-desiccated Napa.
Chicago finally got its third Major League Baseball team, too—the Marlins, which relocated after the Atlantic finally overtook Miami. Opening day at Portillo’s Field, against the St. Louis Carp, is a sellout. Before throwing out the first pitch, Mayor Bezos Kennedy spots St. Louis’s bulbous mascot leaping around. She turns to her husband and says, “I’m so glad we re-reversed the river.”
Can Chicago really become a better, maybe even a far better, place while much of the world suffers the intensifying storms and droughts resulting from climate change? A growing consensus suggests the answer may be a cautious yes. For one, there’s Amir Jina, an economist at the University of Chicago who studies how global warming affects regional economies. In the simulations he ran, as temperatures rise, rainfall intensifies, and seas surge, Chicago fares better than many big U.S. cities because of its relative insulation from the worst ravages of heat, hurricanes, and loss of agriculture.
Continue reading at Chicago Magazine…