Geography, economy bring Northwest cities ever-closer

Boosters have long talked of more cross-border cooperation. Now it's happening.

American’s call it the Pacific Northwest. Canadians see it as their southwest.
But to many residents, the coastal corridor from Oregon to British Columbia is not just two countries side by side on a map. The region has become a quasi-country all its own, with cities like Seattle sharing more in common with Vancouver, B.C., than Washington, D.C.

Some even have a name for this area — Cascadia — united by a pecular blend of trees and technology, fertile farms and urban sprawl, container ships and kayak tours.

But what was once a vague concept held together by boosters and bureaucrats is increasingly becoming a reality as these far corners of two nations become ever-more economically and culturally intertwined.

“We need this strategic alliance,” says Paul Schell, mayor of Seattle and a booster of the Cascadia concept. “This is the most spectacular natural environment in North America. And there are a lot of concerns that we should be tackling together, sharing knowledge and information on.”

Signs of regional cooperation include:
-Labor. Workers — mostly white-collar, high-tech professionals — increasingly ply their trades between the two countries.
-Education. University students frequently cross the border for their education. The Jackson School of International Studies at the Univeristy of Washington, for example, boasts a well-known Canadian studies program, as does Western Washington University in Bellingham.
-Tourism. The “two-nation” vacation is becoming more popular. “What we’re hearing from tour operators is that folks are looking at a two- to three-day circle tour of Seattle, Vancouver and Victoria, at a much higher rate than in the past,” says Bruce Agnew, director of the Cascadia project at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank.
-The arts. The Canadian consulate general recently proposed a Cascadian art and culture showcase for the fall of 2000, and funds are currently being sought for the event. Previously, Seattle artists have been showcased in Vancouver, and Vancouver artists have exhibited in Portland.
-Transportation. High-speed train service has linked Seattle and Vancouver since 1994.
-Politics. The joint British Columbia and Washington Governmental Cooperation Council, founded in 1992, tackles cross-border initiatives on regional challenges, including water quality, oil spill response, aquifers protection and wildlife habitat restoration.

Cooperation on the council lessened during a heated dispute between the two countries over the Pacific salmon. But the battle appeared to end in June, with negotiators able to reach an agreement on details of a treaty between Canada and the United States over fishing levels and conservation goals.

Increased cooperation

Organizations like the Discovery Institute in Seattle and the Cascadia Planning Group, a Vancouver think tank, envision more of these cooperative ventures.

For example, they want to create a binational organization known as the Cascadia Corridor Corp., which would oversee a $100 billion, decades-long remodel of the region’s freeways, most notably the infamously clogged Interstate 5 as it rolls through Seattle.

Bruce Chapman, director of the Discovery Institute, calls I-5 the region’s “main street,” and says fixing it using a mix of public and private money is the key to the region’s continued economic growth and superior quality of life.

Right now, more than 12 million people live in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, the majority in the roughly 50-mile wide corridor squeezed between mountain ranges and water from Eugene, Ore., to Vancouver. That number is expected to double in the next 10 years.

Already cars and trucks can wait for hours to cross the border on busy days. Delays at the border are also deadly for business, which cannot afford to have freight idle for hours.

“We’re in this boat together,” Mr. Chapman says. “If we can’t get along and cooperate, where in the world can it happen?”

Constructs such as countries belong to the 19th century, Seattle mayor Schell insists. The idea of Cascadia much better represents the economic and geographical realities of the region.

“I think the 21st century is about cities and regions cooperating together in the marketplace,” he says. “It’s a borderless world in terms of cash and commerce. It’s an evolution in thinking, a changing mindset.”

Border crossings

Rather than waiting for Washington, D.C., and Ottawa to lead the way, Chapman says, the region should get busy easing passage across the border.

Technology supported by Cacadia proponents includes pre-clearing trucks with passes that can be read electronically, and beefing up the numbers of customs agents at critical hours of the day.

Cascadia proponents also envision a day when high-speed passenger trains will link all of the major cities in the area, from Eugene to Vancouver.

On other fronts, cooperating on tourism promotion is a natural for the Cascadia region, Chapman says. Alan Artibise, director of the Cascadia Planning Group in Vancouver, says support for the idea of Cascadia met with skepticism in British Columbia by those fearful it was the kind of secessionist movement seen in Quebec.

Nowadays, residents and politicans increasingly understand regional cooperation between the two countries is a necessary way of life. “Vancouver and Seattle have much more in common than Vancouver and Calgary,” Mr. Artibise says.