Cascadia Innovation Corridor Starts With UW-UBC Urban Data Co-op

The University of Washington and the University of British Columbia will use a $1 million gift from Microsoft to collaborate on data-driven solutions to urban challenges, giving shape to the cross-border Cascadia Innovation Corridor that business, civic, and education leaders envisioned last fall.

The effort to strengthen ties between the U.S. Northwest and British Columbia, Canada, comes against the backdrop of an inwardly focused Trump administration, which seems to view international collaboration as a zero-sum game and has sought to limit immigration.

“One of the things that Vancouver and Seattle share in common—that we have across this corridor—is that we’re frontier communities, and we face outward at the world,” UW President Ana Mari Cauce said during a news conference announcing the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative on Thursday. “And I would say that we’re on the right coast in terms of what’s happening in the world at this moment.”

She added, “We’re both very trade dependent areas. We’re both areas that have been made successful through immigration.”

Cauce, pictured top left, called the collaboration—and the broader vision of regional cooperation—a natural fit. “We share the same ecosystem,” Cauce said. “We also share a commitment to sustainability, to the notion of livable cities, to the public—both of us, as public universities—and to innovation,” Cauce says. “These values that we hold in common, that Microsoft also holds, are the glue that’s going to bring us together.”

UBC President Santa Ono described the cooperative as an “applied, interdisciplinary, regional center that brings together academic researchers, students, and community members to address urban issues facing citizens of the entire region.”

Both universities already host significant programs that will contribute to the cooperative.

The UW’s Data Science for Social Good program, part of the eScience Institute, sets students to work on data-driven solutions to major issues such as homelessness and transportation. Also contributing are Urban@UW, which brings together researchers from multiple disciplines focused on urban issues, and the UW’s well-funded Population Health Initiative.

UBC has its own Data Science Institute. And other UBC researchers have used data analytics “to enhance our understanding of urban sustainability, and to inform urban planning into the future,” Ono said, citing UBC’s own 33 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over the last five years.

“UBC and the University of Washington have an unprecedented opportunity to transform the Cascadia region into a technological hub comparable to the Silicon Valley and to Boston, Massachusetts,” said Ono, pictured top right. He added, “Our ultimate goal is to establish the Pacific Northwest as a world leader in responsible, social innovation through data science.”

Smith.

Microsoft President Brad Smith, who helped convene the Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in Vancouver last September, said supporting the cooperative was an “easy decision.”

“We believe in the future of data science and what data science can do to solve pressing human problems,” he said. “Both of these universities have great data science programs.”

In support of a regional vision, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) sees an opportunity to help the UW and UBC—which he described as “crown jewels … in the broader Cascadia corridor”—do more together. That, in turn, can be “a strong catalyst for additional interaction, not just among research universities, but broadly in this corridor.”

He said the cooperative is the first of a number of steps that Microsoft is committed to helping the region take in the next year to pursue the Cascadia Innovation Corridor vision.

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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