Architects Martin Felsen, left, and Sarah Dunn envision Chicago of the future as a city that lives up to its motto “Urbs in horto”: city in a garden.

Less than 1% of the water Chicagoans consume every day is reused.

The remaining unrecycled water represents a huge economic and environmental opportunity for the nation's third-largest city, according to Martin Felsen and Sarah Dunn, principal architects with UrbanLab, a Chicago architectural and design firm. Their plan for exploiting Chicago's access to Lake Michigan received top honors in the History Channel's 2006 “City of the Future” competition, which directed entrants to envision what their city might look like in 2106.

As they considered the challenge, Felsen says, he and Dunn asked themselves, “What if water were the world's most valuable resource? Wouldn't Chicago have to completely change to suit that necessity?” UrbanLab's winning design envisions Chicago's water system as a “closed loop.” Canals, landscaping, and other manmade features would partner with fish, plants, and microorganisms in a “living machine” designed to recycle 100% of the city's wastewater and storm-water, returning it to Lake Michi-gan to help preserve the Great Lakes' status as an ecological and economic treasure.

UrbanLab's design also aims to enhance the city's beauty and help citizens better appreciate it. One feature is a series of “eco-boulevards,” spaces where natural features invite social activity while playing their part in the closed-loop water-recycling system. The eco-boulevards feature marshes, prairies, forests, fishing and swimming holes, and other aqua-centric areas.

UrbanLab's design beat out seven other design teams from Chicago, winning $10,000 in regional prize money. The entry, along with those of two other regional finalists (New York City and Los Angeles), was posted on the History Channel's Web site at When online voters chose UrbanLab's entry as the overall winner, Felsen and Dunn took home an additional $10,000.

New York City came in second with a project that imagines the city's streets flooded by the effects of global warming. Los Angeles' third-place entry finds new uses for out-of-date freeways.

While UrbanLab's design looks at Chicago 100 years from now, the city doesn't have to wait a century to start managing its water resources more efficiently.

“Most of these ideas can be implemented tomorrow,” Felsen says. “You don't have to wait.”

To view UrbanLab's winning design, visit