From affordable housing to high-speed transit: a bold vision for the Pacific Northwest


On the border between Washington State and British Columbia, an inscription on the Ark of Peace is a message of unity: “May these borders never be closed. This is also the idea behind the Cascadia Innovation Corridor, an initiative that envisions a bright future for the Pacific Northwest by connecting Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, B.C., in a political, business and research collaboration. and technological innovation.

“While we want to be globally competitive in jobs in the economy, we also want to solve problems,” says former Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, who heads Challenge Seattle, a coalition of leaders of the largest employers in the greater Seattle area. “Cascadia allows us to find answers to some of the most pressing issues we face and to share those answers globally. “

This year, Challenge Seattle was one of the groups behind the 2021 Cascadia Conference, which brought together stakeholders from across the region to discuss joint progress. Grégoire collaborated with Greg D’Avignon, President and CEO of the Business Council of British Columbia. The D’Avignon Business Coalition is committed to international collaboration and to achieving the goals of the Cascadia Innovation Corridor. “The thesis was to connect talents, technology and capital to improve the quality of life of all those who inhabit our region,” he says.

But D’Avignon, Grégoire and their colleagues have been stranded by COVID-19 and the resulting border closure between the United States and Canada. In stark contrast to the words emblazoned with the Ark of Peace, Gregory says the closure – and the lack of uniform direction from the U.S. and Canadian federal governments – has resulted in confusion for people traveling, disruption for businesses and distress for families.

Yet, says D’Avignon, the Cascadia Conference continued: it just went live. “One of the good things that comes from the pandemic is that it has accelerated connectivity and collaboration, and it has done so in a material way where we see regional solutions and ideas coming from the Cascadia Innovation Corridor partnership,” he said.

Their goal for Cascadia is ambitious: a vibrant corridor connecting cities with high-speed ground transportation, affordable housing for residents at all income levels, an economy that leverages the strengths of the three great cities of the Northwest and a climate policy in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement. . “Cascadia’s vision requires creative solutions that extend beyond the Canada-US border,” said Dr. Laurie Trautman, director of the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University. “Transport, housing, economic growth, sustainability – these issues don’t stop at the border, and neither can our responses. “

If these goals seem high, it is out of necessity. The population of Cascadia is expected to increase by 3-4 million over the next several decades, says Gregoire, and under current conditions, “we don’t have the capacity to cope with this increase in population.” The cost of living is rising and housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable.

Vision 2050 for Cascadia, an overview of how the region can develop in a sustainable manner, offers solutions to these problems. Among them is a new high-speed rail system, which would get travelers from Seattle to Portland in 60 minutes.

This creates new possibilities for the hallway, says Grégoire. People can get away from big cities and get around quickly and efficiently on the bullet train, rather than the more typical today’s rush hour experience on I-5.

This innovative future was at the center of the Cascadia 2021 conference, which organizers were able to meet in person again in November, now that border restrictions have eased. Grégoire welcomed the change: “Our job is collaboration. It’s really about coming together, finding new ways of thinking and doing business, ”she says. “And as good as virtual meeting tools are, they don’t have that human interaction in body language and meeting to create new ideas.”

As a leading voice in the Cascadia Innovation Corridor, Microsoft President and Vice President Brad Smith often invokes the Ark of Peace. “Just as the Arch of Peace architects a century ago saw in the future what they could create for us, our opportunity today, in this place and this year, is to design and build a vibrant and sustainable economy in the Cascadia Corridor. “

AT Microsoft, we believe in a future where everyone has the skills, knowledge and opportunities to accomplish more. We are committed to empowering people, communities and organizations around the world in our efforts to ensure inclusive economic recovery.

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