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Sunday, October 3, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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James Vesely / Times editorial page editor

Hey, smarty, is that you building the region?

There are these moments between candidates, debates and the certitudes of readers and bloggers who have all the answers when the wash of colors spreads through the haze of the Cascades and the water flows down the rocks on its mission to the sea.

Inside the thunderstorm that is a region and a country deluged by both war and politics, we still live here, coping with traffic and looking, on mornings of October color, still in amazement at the gorgeous landscape that is our treasure. Joe Tovar knows about that, too, and writes on this page today about the values that make this place unique. Tovar came out of the planning offices in Kirkland, held an important regulatory post on the regional Growth Management Board and now is director of special projects at the Northwest Center for Livable Communities at the University of Washington.

Tovar writes that a livable region is possible, with growth, and within the boundaries we have established inside this fence of the Cascade foothills. Possible, but not easy.

Bruce Katz is also bullish on the region and its capital city. Katz is director of the Metropolitan Policy program of The Brookings Institution and he came through here on his way to speaking at City Hall.

I asked Katz what he thought Seattle and the region have going for them.

"Almost everything," he said, and cited Brookings' own report showing Seattle is one of only about five metropolitan regions with a genuine chance at being a center of biotech research and development.

But it's Katz's analysis of education levels here that capsulizes a region with potentially an enormous future.

"One of the first things I look at is level of education — numbers of people with college degrees," he said. "And Seattle is right up there near the top." In fact, it is third.

Katz's presentation showed the top three cities in percentage of educated residents this way:

• Plano, Texas, with 53.3 percent of population 25 years or older with a bachelor's degree;

• Madison, Wis., with 48.2 percent of population with college degrees;

• Seattle with 47.2 percent.

Not surprisingly, median income matches up with education:

• Plano, Texas, is tops with a median income of $76,722;

• Two California cities are next, Fremont and San Jose, at $76,579 and $70,243;

• San Francisco, with a median income of $55,221, and ...

• Seattle is fifth-highest at $45,736.

I refuse to believe we are in competition with Plano, Texas, north of Dallas, for anything. But we are in competition for jobs, and tech and college grads, with places such as Raleigh-Durham, the Bay Area, Ann Arbor and Madison.

Katz and Tovar are advocates of growth within boundaries. I still maintain that's half the discussion. The other half is the quality of life that courses through our neighborhoods and communities, from Belltown to North Bend. But it is still something around here when summer blurs to fall.

There is crimson and orange in the leaves if you look for those colors. Bursts of colors with fir and hemlock in the background. Each season seems the best one in the Northwest, with little to dread in gridlocking snow or pale, yellow skies of 100-degree heat.

It is the best of seasons for a pretty smart region.

The Seattle Times Editorial Board will host two debates on important elections this month.

Oct. 12, 8th Congressional District debate between Democrat Dave Ross and Republican Dave Reichert, at Meydenbauer Center, Bellevue, 7 p.m. — 8:30 p.m.

Oct. 19, candidates for state attorney general, Democrat Deborah Senn and Republican Rob McKenna, at Seattle Central Library, Seattle, 7 p.m. — 8:30 p.m.

Admission is free and open to the public.

James F. Vesely's column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: jvesely@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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