The Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative, seeded by a $1 million grant from Microsoft, will aim to bring data science to bear on issues faced by communities in Washington state and British Columbia.
Microsoft’s effort to nudge Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., a bit closer together got an endorsement Thursday from the leading university in each city.
The University of Washington and the University of British Columbia announced the establishment of a joint data-science research unit, called the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative, funded by a $1 million grant from Microsoft.
The collaboration will support study of shared urban issues, from health to transit to homelessness, drawing on faculty and student input from both universities.
The partnership has its roots in a September conference in Vancouver organized by Microsoft’s public affairs and lobbying unit. That gathering was aimed at tying business, government and educational institutions in Microsoft’s home region in the Seattle area closer to its Canadian neighbor.
Microsoft last year opened an expanded office in downtown Vancouver with space for 750 employees, an outpost partly designed to draw to the Northwest more engineers than the company can get through the U.S. guest worker system.
“We left the conference in September very, very excited about the possibilities,” UW President Ana Mari Cauce said on a conference call to discuss the partnership.
Meetings between researchers and administrators from UW and UBC followed in the months afterward, she said. Later, they submitted a joint proposal to Microsoft.
The collaboration will start with a summer program on data science for social good, building on an existing program by the UW eScience Institute. The UW will also host a cross-border symposium later this year, and the cooperative will support joint research between students and scholars at both universities.
The deal adds an educational component to the governmental ties that came from last year’s conference.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and B.C. Premier Christy Clark then signed a memorandum of understanding to work together on a variety of cross-border issues.
“One of the things that was very clear at the conference is the kinds of problems that both our cities, and cities across the world, are facing are really too complex for anybody to tackle on their own,” Cauce said.
Microsoft President Brad Smith said he hopes the donation “will serve as a strong catalyst for additional interaction” between the two regions.
UBC President Santa Ono called the investment “transformative.”
Down the line, Ono joked, the two cities can compare rival seafood scenes — perhaps someday after a quick ride between Vancouver and Seattle on a hyperloop.
“I’m with ya,” Cauce said.