Once more a good idea is taking on a life of its own. The idea is “Cascadia,” the concept that the Pacific Northwest of the United States and the two Western provinces of Canada are in reality one international region with a common destiny.
In an era that has seen large centripetal forces pulling Western Europe together into the European Community – and centrifugal forces pulling apart the former Soviet bloc – this North American binational region linked by mountains, a spirit of independence and an outward-looking perspective seems especially advantageous. If regional international cooperation will work anywhere, it is here.
There will be many false starts and half-steps. No body exists to convene this new entity, though the legislators of the Northwest states and Canada’s Western provinces have organized the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) that is helping to set out much of the agenda. But even among those who are enthusiastic about greater regional cooperation – which is most of those who have thought about the subject – there is no agreement yet about certain fundamentals:
— How tight should the ultimate union be? It could be anything from an organized discussion of mutual concerns, such as fishing, energy, transportation, tourism opportunities and economic development. Or it could be an actual legal organism to make binding decisions for the region in such fields. Preferably, it might be something in between. PNWER, for example, wisely aims at specific areas of limited collaboration, such as pollution cleanup technology, telecommunications linkages among universities and uniform product content standards.
— How does regional cooperation express itself in spheres outside of government, such as education, the arts and, of course, business associations? Some of the most interesting moves for collaboration have come through business, including the creation of “PACE” (the Pacific Corridor Enterprise Council), which seeks to lower barriers to cross-border commerce. The Seattle-based nonprofit issues journal, The New Pacific, was bought out by a Vancouver group that is revising its format but expects to keep alive a regional perspective. In sports, fans (and business people) in Portland and Vancouver have rallied to the cause of saving the Seattle Mariners, while many in Seattle, as well, aspire to an eventual “regionalization” of the team. This is not just to build a stronger business base, but to make baseball a tangible example of the growing regional affinity of spirit.
— What, in fact, do you call this area? “Cascadia” seems like the best name, to connote the beauty of the region’s natural environment, as well as the particular range of mountains that is the spine of the states and provinces on the Pacific Coast. It is probably a better name than anyone otherwise has suggested – we are not really, just the “Pacific” Northwest, and Alberta and British Columbia are “Southwest,” after all, in Canada. Seen from Asia, as Seattle Port Commissioner Paul Schell has observed, the whole region is in the Northeast Pacific, not the Northwest.
— What are the boundaries of “Cascadia”? This question can generate many nights of debates around the dinner table, but why not try for a common-sense consensus? Start with the core, as the European Community did, and go on from there: Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, where the regional sentiment seems strongest, but also Idaho, Montana, Alaska and Alberta, as PNWER has done.
However, the sticking point is this: How does the relationship, on whatever basis it exists, become formalized?
Most “Cascadians” are frustrated from time to time with their national governments in Washington or Ottawa, but nobody is suggesting the formation of a new constitutional entity. Therefore, it makes sense to build the Cascadia idea with a few concrete projects that develop effective regionalism rather than getting distracted in proposing various legal structures. After all, most lasting love affairs start with a bit of casual dating, not a pre-nuptial agreement.
Among the “dates” we might consider is May-October 1996. At that time the next World Expo – the kind of event that did so much for Seattle, Spokane and Vancouver in the past – will be held in Budapest, Hungary. By direction of the International Bureau of Fairs and Exhibitions, the former co-home of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and one of the current leaders in forging a new Central European regional identity will be the showcase of a successful post-communist future. If Expo ’92 in Seville is any indication, the United States probably will offer another half-hearted national pavilion. (Canada’s is much better.)
Imagine the surprise and interest that would be generated around the world if among the entries at the 1996 fair in Budapest was a pavilion for “Cascadia,” the unofficial region on the other side of the globe where states and provinces have banded together to solve common problems and develop common opportunities. Among the opportunities: cooperation in international trade promotion, displaying the whole region – from airplanes to fish to computers and software to wood products, wine and sportswear. Add a “Cascadia” visual arts exhibit and a performing arts program of regional theater, film and musical companies.
Joint regional trade promotion is a precedent that needs to be established soon, anyhow. Already, looking at Cascadia as if we were a country, our economy is the 10th-largest in the world, one of the new “economic tigers” of the Pacific. By knowing the world spotlight will be on this fledgling region a few years hence, the overall “Cascadia” project can have a definite international focus and a realizable short-term objective.