Planning for Resilience in the Pacific Northwest

In February, I spoke at the School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) Symposium at the University of British Columbia (UBC) on Planning for Resilience in the Pacific Northwest. I organized my remarks around five core principles for planning and managing land and water that I believe can help move us toward more resilient urban regions. Those actively participating in the Regional Open Space Strategy (ROSS) may find these principles familiar, they guide our process. We believe that planning with these principles will lead to a truly resilient urban region.

1. Nature IS Infrastructure

If one were to design a city from scratch, the first and most important task would be to identify and safeguard those areas on the natural landscape that provide essential goods or services of benefit to the future city and its occupants. Failure to protect this natural capital as infrastructure would lead, inevitably, to a future where its loss must be mitigated with some form of engineered infrastructure; or in the case of arable land, replaced with food production more distant from the city. It is far more sensible to avoid its loss in the first place.

2. Scale Matters

Planning and management of land and water in urban regions must occur at multiple scales. Local challenges often can be addressed by local solutions, but even neighborhood scale initiatives nest within a broader context and can support a variety of regional public policy objectives. The reverse also is true. The big challenges of our day demand regional collaboration, improved coordination, and authentic collective action. Rarely are these complex local/regional relationships and linkages well understood at multiple scales. We need to ensure regional decisions are informed by local experience, and we need to encourage local projects that nest within and advance regional objectives.

3. Beware Fragmentation 

Fragmentation of our efforts may be the primary impediment to achieving a resilient and sustainable future for urban regions. We need to move toward improved regional governance and authentic regional collaboration; where plans can be established at the proper scale, regional priorities set, and coordinated actions taken. We need mechanisms for aggregating or aligning public funding sources, and for deploying them collectively to projects and actions that advance agreed regional goals. None of this can happen without a big table around which regional leaders can sit, public and private stakeholders engaged, and financial resources enhanced. 

4. Mind Your Co-Benefits

To be sure, there has been some effective and coordinated planning and action in the Pacific Northwest, much of it at the proper scale, and often employing a collaborative approach. However, too often these otherwise meritorious efforts occur within narrowly prescribed issue silos and fail to recognize the unrealized potential for issue-specific actions to generate unrelated environmental or societal co-benefits. This is particularly important in the context of open space where accounting for these co-benefits can dramatically enhance the value proposition for conservation action. 

5. Make it Real

The best way to demystify complexity and illustrate the benefits of pursuing systemic change is to make the value proposition for doing so tangible. Some in our community are focused on traditional physical planning within existing frameworks or on short term campaigns focused on a narrow problem set. Intellectually, they can appreciate the benefits of a regional vision for planning, governance, collaboration and conservation finance; but they see no way to get there without first demonstrating utility at a more modest scale. Their skills will be important to our success, but their buy-in and deep engagement is contingent on seeing the tangible value of the effort to their day-to-day work. 

We invite you to explore the work of the ROSS on this website, through our blog and reports.

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