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Harcourt warns of growth crisis

A human tsunami is heading for British Columbia and Washington state, and threatens to devastate cities in its path, former B.C. premier Mike Harcourt said Friday.
Harcourt, an expert on sustainable cities, was the guest speaker for the second Cascadia Mayors’ Council, a day-long event held at the Victoria Conference Centre.

The council and conference, initiated two years ago by Seattle Mayor Paul Schell, was created to encourage cooperation between the regions in Cascadia — B.C., Washington and Oregon.

Harcourt told more than 25 Cascadia mayors, including host Victoria Mayor Bob Cross, the region must implement an urban growth and sustainable development strategy in the next few years.

If not, population growth will devastate the area — socially, environmentally, economically.

In 1960, the region was home to 2.6 million people, he said.

“Today over six million people live here. By 2020 there may be an additional three-to-five million here,” he said.

“Gridlock, air pollution, water pollution, more sewage, poverty and the destruction of natural habitats,” will result from a lack of planning, he said.

“if you look down on Puget Sound and Georgia Strait and you take out the mountains you can’t develop, the ocean areas, the river deltas, and the prime agricultural land, parks and wilderness areas, there’s not land left on which to put another four to six million people,” said Hardcourt.

“We will have to get very creative and decide how we are going to use that scarce urban land best,” he said.

To that end Harcourt is heading up a similar conference at the end of May at the University of British Columbia. He said the idea is to move from “vision fatigue to real concrete action to improve air quality, water, transportation, and public health.”

Plannersin the Capital Regional District predict that migration will generate most of the population growth over the next quarter century. People will be attracted here by jobs, an appealing climate, natural settings, and high quality of life.

The 1996 census record 315,000 people in the capital region; the population could grow by 103,000 by 2026, according to one B.C. government projection.

In its preliminary work on a growth strategy, the CRD is calling for:
-most future population growth to be housed in existing urban areas;
-preservation of agricultural land;
-protection of existing green spaces;
-less use of cars, more use of bicycles.

Seattle’s Mayor Paul Schell said Cascadia’s mayors share the same geographic challenges and watershed, and therefore must join forces in dealing with population growth.

“If we love our environment and we want to keep Seattle, Vancouver and Victoria the kind of exciting place we know and love we must act together and get ahead of the (growth) problem rather than letting it happen to us,” said Schell.

Links between Seattle, Victoria and Port Angeles are increasingly significant, said Schell, noting solutions in Toronto or Kansas City won’t wash here.

Victoria’s Bob Cross said Seattle and Port Angeles are crucial gateways and tourism relies on easy transportation between them. He said Cascadia cooperation has never been mroe important.

“West of the Rockies what we all recognize up and down the Pacific coast is we have everything in common, including challenges,” said Cross.

He believes a grassroots effort by Cascadia’s mayors will influence higher levels of government and in the near future improve tourism marketing, communication links and transportation access.