Trying to live in balance with nature is something Seattleites take for granted as a civic good: transit projects, urban villages, recycling. But it wasn’t always so.
Indeed, the first popular modern articulation of the ideal of turning the Pacific Northwest into an ecologically sane habitat for humans was the million-selling 1975 utopian novel Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach.
The novel imagined that in the late 20th century, the Northwest, including Washington, Oregon, and Northern California, had successfully seceded from the more materialistic and militaristic United States. Shutting off to the outside world, the Ecotopians had set about creating a new, sustainable society in which nature worship and technological innovation went hand in hand.
We’re in the new century, and Ecotopia hasn’t happened. Yet rereading the book today (Bantam issued a 30th anniversary edition this month), it is amazing how many of its ideas are our conventional wisdom. When we talk of sustainable cities, green building, and growth management, we’re speaking the language of Ecotopia. Indeed, the word “ecotopia” has come to mean any effort to create or promote an environmental ideal.
For this Turf, we depart from our usual format to a look at the big picture: the state of Ecotopia today. Geov Parrish talks with author Callenbach, the man who launched a movement with his speculative fiction [The Man Who Invented Ecotopia]; we look at the challenges facing the one city-state in the region—Portland, Ore.—that has done the most to implement Ecotopian ideals, and the dangers it faces [Endangered Ecotopia]; and we look at whether Washington can find a political formula that moves beyond the red/blue divide to help us realize our green dreams [A Populist Paradise?].
—The Editors [of Seattle Weekly]