Last year, the governor of Washington and premiere of British Columbia, Canada, did something that's not en vogue anymore: they cooperated.

The two leaders signed an agreement to grow high-tech industries and strengthen collaboration across the US-Canada border. The goal is to create a Cascadia Innovation Corridor--a Pacific Northwest tech hub that stretches nearly 150 miles from Seattle to Vancouver.

I'm all for it, especially during a time when so much energy is being put into blocking the free movement of people and ideas across borders. But why stop there? Why not lay the foundation for an unbroken belt of innovation that extends all the way down the coast to Silicon Valley?

And while we're at it, why don't we make our own separate little republic for good measure?

Think about it: a brand new nation, stretching along the Pacific from British Columbia to California. We'd be more populous than Canada. We'd have a bigger GDP than the UK. And, instead of clinging to old models, we'd gaze ahead to a future of clean energy, clean tech and smart automation.

Doesn't sound so bad, right? Turns out Cascadia is far from a passing fantasy. It actually has deep historical roots ... not to mention the support of a sizable contingent of modern-day Cascadians yearning to break free.

Cascadia, then and now

Thomas Jefferson, as early as 1813, fancied the Pacific Northwest "the germ of a great, free and independent empire." That dream of a separate republic astride the Cascade Mountains--stretching from Canada to Oregon ... sometimes even into California--had surprising staying power. The Oregon Territory toyed with becoming an independent nation during the 1840s. A century later, secessionists blocked roads and collected tolls in Northern California.

A vision for modern-day Cascadia was laid out in the 1970s utopian novel Ecotopia: carefully planned, environmentally sustainable, human-scale. The concept even made its way into politics. In 1999, Seattle mayor Paul Schell went so far as to say, at least in the context of transportation, that "Cascadia represents--better than states, countries and cities--the cultural and geographical realities of the corridor."

So how are Cascadia's prospects looking in 2017? (By the way, I'm lumping in the whole West Coast here, just for argument's sake.) Well, the economics aren't half bad. California is officially the 6th-largest economy in the world. British Columbia, where I call home, boasts Canada's strongest economy. As all jobs become tech jobs (in one form or another), the region's economic clout only stands to grow.

Not to mention, craft beer would definitely be plentiful. We've got a huge head start on the burgeoning $50-billion legal cannabis market. And Cascadia already has a pretty neat flag.

On a more serious level, I think Cascadia's biggest strength is an eagerness to look ahead, not back. Yes, the futurism thing can get annoying; I know not everyone is looking forward to the days of drone deliveries and neural lace. But there's generally a healthy willingness among Cascadians to acknowledge and try to solve problems--economic, environmental, political--rather than wish them away.

Climate change isn't a myth here; it's a dilemma to be addressed head on. Jobs in factories and mines aren't coming back; so energy turns to training tomorrow's workforce. Border walls and people bans hold little cachet in Cascadia. Instead, the focus is on finding ways for ideas and people to move freely.

Utopia/Dystopia

But this little utopia, like all utopias, easily turns sour. The same challenges that face the West Coast face the East Coast, not to mention much of the world: environmental degradation, economic upheaval, global instability. Right now, fostering more divisions between countries or between people is the last thing we need.

Besides, there's all those pesky practical details we'd need to worry about: taxes, defense ... and whose rules would we use for football--Canadian or American? Just to be clear, this is armchair pipe-dreaming. Seceding would be crazy, impractical and, for all intents and purposes, impossible. As shown by the uproar around last year's half-hearted call for Silicon Valley to secede, cooperation, not splintering, is the way forward.

But I think there's something to be taken away from this fantasy. Cascadia Now!, the biggest booster of the Cascadia concept, currently has tens of thousands of followers on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. They're not advocating secession or anything as dramatic as that. Instead, they sum up their mission in these words:

"More than just a bioregion, Cascadia is ... a positive and inclusive, place-based interdependence movement to break down boundaries and borders that are arbitrary or negative, shift our actions and impacts locally, build models we can share for the rest of the world, and build a bioregional community that fosters a culture rooted in a love of place."

Wherever you live, chances are that sentiment could probably do some good right now. If that's what Cascadia is about, I know a lot of people who'd sign up for citizenship, in a heartbeat.

Published on: Aug 15, 2017