Time to embrace fresh approaches for environmental and regional progress

By Gene Duvernoy

Seattle, WA (December 4, 2011)- New economic realities are forcing new approaches to making progress on environmental objectives with fewer resources. Regions will come out on top by aligning their economies and environments with a vibrant family life.

I heard an economist recently declare we are in frothy times. Frothy being a nice word for scarce jobs, tectonic shifts in global economic foundations and no playbook for what’s next. The old answers no longer work.

Pundits tell us the federal government is both broke and broken. The state is wrestling with unrelenting budget cuts. Our local communities are on their own as if in some postmodern version of a feudal city-state. None of this is good news. But it need not stop us.

It’s no secret that our world has fundamentally changed. The Brookings Institution’s Metro Nation program shows that regions with strong cities connected by first-rate infrastructure will succeed in the emerging global marketplace. Regions will come out on top by aligning their economies and environments with a vibrant family life in their cities and towns. We in the Northwest best get our house in order to be winners in this new competitive regime.

It will not be easy or certain. We have come together as a region in the past to solve big problems and rise above old divisions. We must do so again. Out of this current economic and political froth, we can embrace a fresh approach and create a region that is cohesive, economically resilient and environmentally sound. Take a fresh approach – and mean it.

Otherwise a “new and lesser normal” will change the trajectory of our region, the strength of our communities and ultimately our values. We wish none of this on our children.

There are early signs that our region gets it – a real commitment to a new regional approach. Under leadership by the Puget Sound Regional Council, 44 governments and nongovernmental organizations set aside old differences, acted like a region and successfully competed for a $5 million sustainability grant last year from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. On the Olympic Peninsula, four counties, a tribe, nongovernmental organizations and 15 local governmental entities joined together and were awarded HUD-preferred sustainability status that will advantage them in competition for scarce federal dollars.

And there are more signs. Despite budget difficulties, last May the Legislature passed the Landscape Conservation and Local Infrastructure Program that bridged the age-old urban-rural divide. Farmers and foresters will be able to financially continue and cities will be able to finance critical infrastructure. Our region will enjoy flourishing farms and active forests alongside welcoming and affordable cities. The program takes a fresh approach and knits together interests from across our region, so all benefit.

There also are successful, fresh approaches to old problems emerging right on the ground. The Orton Junction project, just approved by Pierce County, did not follow the old battle lines of environmentalist vs. developer, city dweller vs. rural resident. Instead it will save hundreds of acres of farmland and entitle new development that will provide jobs and boost the city of Sumner’s economy.

Across the Cascade Crest, environmental groups, tribes, governments and farmers have set aside differences and joined together in the laboriously named but innovative Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan to save vast landscapes, improve fish habitat and increase irrigation water.

Instead of looking backward and getting mired in arguments about what once was, by fundamentally working together – taking a fresh approach to our region – we can create a community worthy of our children.

Cascade Land Conservancy has changed its name to Forterra to firmly declare commitment to this fresh approach. The old name stood us well through years of building an organization committed to the Northwest. Forterra looks ahead to where we need to go in the coming decades. It is time to work hard. Over the next 18 months, we’ll join with government, tribal, business, civic and environmental leaders to learn all we can from these first steps to build a program of strong and fair regionalism to make our Northwest all it can be.

Time to forge a fresh approach. Recognize our community, economic and environmental interests are one and then act like it to advance a game-changing, regional agenda. Because if we don’t all do better, in the end, no one does.

Related Resources:
The Seattle Times- Time to embrace fresh approaches for environmental and regional progress