Cascadia: borderless solutions

Most of us grew up listening to the songs of government in four-four time. The metronome ticked off a familiar beat: city, county, state fed.
But the world has never been that plain. There are all sorts of borders, lines of government jurisdiction written with distinct rhythms. Thesounds also can come from international agreements and treaties, from tribes, and from local governmental districts, such as those created for water, sewer or airports.

Consider the vibrations coming from Europe: National borders remain, but they now are complemented by a United States of Europe with its own currency and parliament.

So if France, Germany and Spain can rearrange the nature of governance, why not Washington, Oregon and British Columbia? Why not redefine our borders in an era when complex problems don’t respect the lines we once drew on a map?

“How do we get organized? That’s really the question,” said Seattle Mayor Paul Schell, speaking at the American Planning Association conference meeting here last week. “Nineteenth-century solutions are hard to shoe-horn into existing border.”

That’s where Cascadia comes in. Supporters say Cascadia — an urban region bound by Interstate 5 in Washington and Oregon and Highway 99 in British Columbia — shouldn’t be another government, but a process for sorting out common problems.

Cascadia shares “concerns of environment, trade, tourism, culture, education and much else; but the connective theme is transportation,” according to a recent report by Bruce Agnew of the Discovery Institute in Seattle. “Transportation concerns, indeed, are doing the most to bring the region together and effectively shrink the historic, political and physical distances that separate us.”

Transportation is critical because Cascadia’s population is expected to double in the next 30 years and “the I-5 corridor is filling up and the growth is spilling out.”

Where the growth spills is something to think about no matter which flag flies above. Yet we tend to concern ourselves more with growth in Centralia than in Vancouver, B.C., Schell said, because of the circumstance of political boundaries.

But the compass can be confusing. For example: In 30 years, B.C.’s largest city is expected to be Surrey in the “Southwest.”

From our vantage point Surrey is only a few miles north of Bellingham. Is that in the Pacific Northwest, or in the Canadian Southwest?

Such distinctions don’t matter to fish as they swim from the Puget Sound through B.C.’s Strait of Georgia. Passports or not, it’s the same waterway.

Perhaps Cascadia will start with roads, but if it’s to work as a regional ethic, if we’re to understand how our communities are the same, then we’ll have to rename things.

Start with the Puget Sound (which isn’t really a sound anyway). Mayor Schell has a nomination: The Salish Sea.

We ought to name this large inland sea for a people who originally lived here, defining Cascadia as the future, Schell said. “We can do better than the names (given to us) from the 19th century explorers.”

I am intrigued by the idea of Cascadia, the Salish Sea, and especially the ethic of a place. Indeed, the city-state of Vancouver, Seattle and Portland sounds better as a triangle than as noisy urban centers growing too close together.