Aggressive Regionalism: Commentary

17.  David McCloskey, “Cascadia”

The term “Cascadia” first gained use in the natural sciences when geologists and botanists used it to depict, respectively, a subterranean formation and terrestrial vegetation in the Pacific Northwest.  During the last quarter of the twentieth century, others began to use the term to describe a cultural, social, and ecological region.  Prominent among the promoters of the concept was David McCloskey, a professor at Seattle University, who began offering a course called “Cascadia:  Sociology of the Pacific Northwest” during the late 1970s.  In a variety of writings, McCloskey described Cascadia as a region defined by its natural features—its mountains, its green forests, and especially its river systems flowing toward the Pacific.  “Cascadia is a land of falling waters,” he summarized.  Its “natural integrity,” moreover, matched its “sociocultural unity.”  Another writer concluded that Cascadia is “as much a state of mind as a geographic place” (Johnson 1994:21).

Although many people in the Pacific Northwest probably would have consented to the idea that some kind of transborder region—whatever it was called—made sense, McCloskey’s specific state of mind was not universally shared.  His maps of the region showed no political boundaries; rather, the boundaries of the region were set entirely by mountain ranges, watersheds, and the ocean.  It was as if states and provinces no longer existed, and international boundaries had been erased.  This kind of thinking must have made Oregonians, Washingtonians, and Idahoans nervous about their state identities; it surely provoked an ever sharper reaction to the north of the 49th parallel. Most Canadians, of course, did not embrace any notion that reduced the importance of international boundaries—which made it difficult for cross-border, Cascadian initiatives to succeed (Artibise 1996:35-37).  Moreover, McCloskey wrote about the future of Cascadia as a sustainable region, making it clear that he defined the place ecologically.  Part of the “sociocultural unity” he perceived stemmed from what another ostensible Cascadian—former Seattle mayor Paul Schell—called our “love of the outdoors and reverence for the environment passed to us from the native people who first called it home”  (Schell 1992:4).  But Schell was, among other things, a land developer and port commissioner whose agenda focused more on expediting economic growth than on saving trees and salmon.  Schell was hardly the only entrepreneur to embrace Cascadia as a way of accelerating trade across the 49th parallel and increasing regional economic competitiveness (see Artibise 1996).  By the 1990s practically all regional constituencies knew how to couch their ideas in appropriately environmentalist terms.  The Northwest had become full of aggressive regionalists, in a sense.  Some moved aggressively in the direction of sustainability, while others moved aggressively to position the region for economic growth in a time of globalization.  The former claimed that they were protecting the essential Northwest from losing its identity at a time of large-scale changes, while the others wanted the region positioned as well as possible in order to take advantage of those changes.  The groups were writing different futures for the same place.

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