Metropolis Unbound: The Sprawling American City and the Search for Alternatives (An Excerpt)

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Another model for the future comes from the Pacific Northwest, where a chain of cities—including Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver—form a city-region now often called “Cascadia” (from the Cascade Mountains that parallel the Pacific coastline).
by Robert Geddes
November 1, 1997
The American Prospect
Full article can be found here


An Excerpt:

Although this new city-region crosses state and international boundaries, the emerging idea of Cascadia provides an economically integrated vision of the settlements along a regional corridor, a “Main Street” called Interstate Highway 5. What is especially notable is that it also includes an ecologically integrated vision of the geology, vegetation, natural species, climate, and movement of water throughout the region.

Cascadia shows that an equilibrium of nature, society, and culture can still be the basis of city building. Think of Cascadia as a candidate for the historians’ next “shock city.” Its predecessors, Manchester, New York, and Los Angeles, all drew their image from their built landscape. Cascadia draws its power as a new paradigm from its natural landscape.

Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver have each pioneered in planning for environmental protection and the provision of greenspace (parks, riparian corridors, natural habitats) as parts of the urban fabric. Today, however, greenspace is at risk. The greatest challenge comes from rapid population growth and a pattern of human settlement that, like other American city-regions, is consuming land at an even faster rate. Sprawl development has led to inefficient use of land, energy, and other resources and has had profound impacts on air quality, the hydrology of watersheds, and the environmental health of the inhabitants. The question is whether Cascadia will go the way of Los Angeles. Or as Cascadian urbanists Ethan Seltzer, Ann Vernez Moudon, and Alan Artibise put it, “Will the legacy of our times result in the stewardship of the environment, or the destructive consumption of one of the most striking and abundant landscapes on the continent?”

Cascadia has also tried to meet the needs of socially diverse residents by regulating the form of urban development. Unlike most other city-regions, it has tried to define “urban growth boundaries” to promote compact development and “urban villages” with a mix of living, working, and leisure activities. Portland, for example, has set a growth boundary that is the most concrete commitment in North America to reversing trends toward racial and class segregation and the flight from inner cities. But Portland would never have been able to undertake this process if it had not been for action by its state.