Finding Urban Solutions to Contemporary Challenges

CUAC law students meeting at Allard Hall

Under the direction of Professor Margot Young, two law students have had the opportunity to take part in the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative (CUAC), an interdisciplinary collaboration between UBC and the University of Washington (UW).
Funded by Microsoft, CUAC explores the use of data science for social good. The project focuses on resolving housing, transportation, health, and environmental issues in the Cascadia Innovation Corridor (an area that spans across the Canada/US border from Vancouver to Portland). 
“The project will provide a lengthy memo to all law CUAC researchers,” explained Professor Young. “We hope that the project catalyzes a rich and ongoing relationship between the two law schools.” 
Second year law students, Kate Gotziaman and Justin Choi discuss their involvement in the project and what they’ve learned. 
Tell us about the research you’re doing. 
Currently, we are researching the different legal frameworks within the Cascadia Innovation Corridor, particularly the different jurisdictional powers of local governments. So far, we have been engaged in working on two stages of a project about local governments’ jurisdictions. The first stage focused on comparing different local governments in each of the countries. The second stage, which we are currently working on, compares the jurisdictions of local governments across British Columbia and Washington.
What have been your findings?
The jurisdictions of local governments in British Columbia and Washington are similar in many ways, but there are also important differences in both the sources and the extent of municipal powers.
One of the most interesting differences, at least in my opinion, is the history of approaches taken to statutory interpretation of municipal powers in each area. Courts in both Washington and British Columbia used to take a strict approach known as Dillon’s Rule. Starting in the early 20th century, Washington courts changed tack and began taking a more broad approach. This shift also occurred in Canada, but not until the mid-1990s. It seems that local governments in Washington are generally more comfortable testing the contours of their jurisdiction, and this could be because they have had a head start of almost a century to get used to courts interpreting their statutes broadly. Understanding this historical context is exciting, as it suggests that British Columbia local governments may also take increasingly bold approaches to asserting their jurisdiction in the coming decades. There are, however, also many other factors at play.
How did you get involved with the project? 
The idea to include legal research in CUAC’s work came from a meeting between faculty at UBC and UW. These faculty members recognized that in order to do cross-border, collaborative research about a range of pressing topics, they would need to understand how different legal frameworks affect what cross-border sharing might work.  
Professor Jonathan Fink (who currently leads the CUAC project at UBC as a visiting professor, and is a Professor of Geology at Portland State University) worked with Professor Young to determine how to turn that concept into a concrete project. Professor Hugh Spitzer, of the UW School of Law, joined the team to lead the American side of the initiative.
Professor Young and Professor Spitzer each hired two law students. The team of four students are working together on researching how Canadian and American local governments compare to each other. The entire project is aimed at supporting cross-border collaboration, and the students model cross-border collaboration as they work towards that objective.
What’s been your biggest learning? 
Doing a comparative project was interesting: not only did I learn about the laws of a jurisdiction that I would not have learned about otherwise, but I also got to think about why the two jurisdictions have come to have such different laws. The other side of the coin is why, despite the different histories, legal regimes, and de jure powers, the de facto functions of the cities have come to resemble each other’s. I don’t know if I’ve learned the definitive answers to these questions, but it has been an interesting exercise nonetheless. I also had to figure out how to write a legal memo for a lay audience, which was more challenging than I thought.
Photo caption: CUAC law students meeting at Allard Hall. From left to right: Kate Gotziaman, Justin Choi, Dylan Olson and Greyson Blue.