“Roads are very interesting things for planners,” notes Katherine Harvey, a landscape and urban designer at the Glendale, California–based firm Osborn.
She goes on to explain that planners like that roads work as corridors, connecting pieces of the city. But, she adds, wastewater conduits such as sewers also link things up. And this commonality between roadways and sewage systems is the genius idea embedded in Mag Luv, one of the most intriguing winners of an infra-structure competition sponsored by SCI-Arc and the Architect’s Newspaper. Osborn’s team appropriated “freeway right of way”—–the land currently occupied by the highways that define Los Angeles—–and “dream space” as the site for a magnetic levitation rail line powered in part by biogas harvested from the city’s waste-treatment facilities. “The 917 million gallons of wastewater treated daily in L.A.,” the team argues, “contains 9.3 times more energy than is used to treat it.” To integrate transportation and waste systems, team leader Harvey says they appropriated portions of freeways including U.S. 101 and I-405 for a new set of urban corridors that would also carry hydrogen-fueled buses, shared electric cars, and other more conventional transit lines. Within the embrace of these truly superhighways are the fruits of sophisticated wastewater treatment: wetlands habitat, fish hatcheries, and aquatic sports centers.