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Will Future Climate Change Give Chicago the Competitive Edge?

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Could New York and LA's climate woes elevate the Windy City?

With catastrophic weather threatening many US coastal cities, could Chicago be on the verge of becoming the nation’s preeminent metropolis as violent climate change affects its competitors? A recent article appearing in the Chicago Reader hypothesizes just that.

According to the report, a worst case scenario projects that tidal flooding will hit Washington DC on a daily basis later this century. Scientists say that a rise in global sea level could threaten Boston and much of New York City by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed. Water shortages and fires currently ravage the America’s west coast and the possibility of devastating so-called "megadrought" remains a real threat to California and its neighbors. With the economic impact of these increasingly common disasters escalating, the Windy City could find itself in the catbird seat, argues the author.

Chicago’s "Third Coast" is unaffected by sea level and situated far enough away from punishing Atlantic storms like 2012’s deadly Hurricane Sandy. Drought in Chicago also unlikely considering the city is sitting next to one of the planet’s largest supplies of fresh water in the form of the Great Lakes. Thanks to the recent Great Lakes Compact signed by eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces, the resource will be protected from being used by cities located outside its immediate watershed.

Despite a generally favorable location, Chicago is expected to face its own set of weather challenges in the future in the form of rising temperatures and increased precipitation. Urban flooding is already a real issue facing the city during the summertime storms that have been arriving with greater frequency and intensity each year. Chicago can allegedly handle the increase as the author points to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s "Deep Tunnel" project that is expected to up stormwater capacity from 2.7 billion gallons to 17.5 billion by 2030.

In addition to Chicago’s fortuitous geography, the Windy City has also been proactive when it comes to implementing green initiatives. The Chicago Reader article points to the city’s miles of new bike lanes, increased rail ridership, growing number of transit-oriented-developments, and Chicago’s nation-leading number of LEED-certified buildings. It will take this type of continued foresight from planners to see Chicago capitalize if its coastal competitors are indeed stunted by the predicted climate calamities.