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It’s the Bioregion, Silly! Patti Southard Interview

EDITOR: For the last several months, we’ve been privileged to support your efforts to convene the third annual King County GreenTools Government Confluence scheduled for May 5th in Bellevue, Washington. This Confluence is different in many ways from previous local Confluence events, including first, its expanded bioregional approach – blasting right through the conventional jurisdictional mindsets that can hamper true sustainable development. Some might think, why is this approach important?

Patti Southard Head Shot SMALLSOUTHARD: Well first of all, salmon don’t know when they’ve swum across a jurisdictional border. I like to say that habitat doesn’t recognize a politically drawn line on a map. Let’s face it, if we don’t approach sustainable development from a bioregional perspective, we’ll be missing the mark in a big way.

Some may ask, Why King County? Why not King County? Seriously, this stems from the fact that counties or provinces are typically the entities that primarily manage natural resources, and yet cities and towns manage development. This arrangement creates a gap – who is responsible? King County has been working very successfully for the last few years with the 38 suburban cities within its boundaries to close that gap. What we’ve found is that by nurturing a peer-to-peer environment among our Suburban Cities and the County, a very exciting synergy results. In the last year, we’ve seen a doubling of participation in our Sustainable Cities Roundtables, with lots of good information exchange. We want to share our success and lessons learned, not so much to get recognition, although that’s great, but to leverage it and create a more powerful solution that recognizes the richness and vulnerabilities of our bio-region as a whole.

So how have you tried to expand the scope of the Confluence? We have had this great opportunity to partner with the Cascadia Region Green Building Council (CRGBC) this year. Their 2010 Living Future Conference (or “Unconference” as they call it, to distinguish from the more conventional experience) is in Seattle. In prior years, CRGBC has held a government summit as part of that event. By joining together in one government focused event, it’s going to provide a much richer experience for all of us.

Has your effort been successful? The proof is in the pudding. This year we have attendees coming from all around the region, including Oregon, Washington (East, Central, and West), and British Columbia, as well as several attendees representing national and international interests. For example, the Clinton Global Initiative will have folks here. We’ve got elected officials, we’ve got managers, and we’ve got staff. We’ve got urban communities represented as well as rural, large communities as well as small. Another thing that’s quite different about the Confluence this year – and related to the bio-regional scope – is the fact that we have a very diverse list of participants signed up representing multiple levels of government: federal, state/provincial, counties and municipal.

What are you looking for from all this diversity? Well one thing that’s not different about this Confluence is our desire to create a structure for “mixing” it up. We’ll be using the same “wedding planning” approach to lunch table assignments we’ve used in past Confluences to make sure the conversation is rich and the information exchange is “actual.”

If you hope to gain one thing from the Confluence, what would it be? Well, I want two things! First, to inspire everyone there to continue to do the good work they are doing. But second, to create a foundation for nesting these individual efforts to get more out of them – build efficiencies if you will. We don’t need to waste any more time re-inventing the wheel. There’s been some great work done that we can all build upon – one good example is the groundbreaking research Cascadia’s been doing to identify code barriers and solutions (Cascadia Code Study). And of course, at King County, we feel we have a model that might work for others. Besides the simple reality that sustainability in our region requires a regional approach (duh), the fact is when we take this regional approach we have a lot more brainpower and experience to draw on.

Patti Southard is in her 12th year in the sustainable building industry, and Program Manager at King County GreenTools. For more information about the Confluence, please go to 2010 Confluence

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