japan may 1375
Seattle at an Angle, photo by author

This is a bit wonky and not quite transit related: but here’s an update on the march toward density in our area. According to the state Office of Financial Management (via the P-I), Seattle’s population grew 1.6% from April 2008 to April 2009, reaching 602,000 people. The state overall grew 1.2% to 6,668,200 and King County grew 1.3% to 1,909,300 (1% outside of Seattle). The state’s population growth has slowed from 1.9% to 1.2%, but Seattle’s growth has grown during that period from 1.1% to 1.6%. Why has Seattle’s population grown faster than the state at large and King County? Housing growth. King County added about 10,500 housing units from 2008 to 2009, while Seattle alone added nearly 6,000. Future growth in housing stock will likely slow over the coming years due to the housing bubble bursting,  however there’s still fair amount of housing construction underway right now and the city’s growth will likely continue over the next twelve to eighteen months.

Growth management finally seems to be working: unincorporated King County only gained 2,030 people, or 0.59% from 2008 to 2009. This is offset by annexations of unincorporated areas. Still, main urban areas are accounting for much of the state’s growth. From 1999 to 2009, Seattle’s population grew 38,624 in total, a 6.9% uptick with no annexations. Bellevue grew by 10,773 people to 120,600, a 9.8% increase with 2,747 (2.7%) coming from annexations. Tacoma and Spokane have both crossed 200,000 this decade, with reaching 203,400 and 205,500, respectively.

I should caution that these are official approximations, and could end up looking very different from the official census that will be taken in 2010. The OFM creates these approximations from data such as driver’s licence filings, school enrollments and voter registrations.

35 Replies to “City Passes 600,000”

    1. Do the long history of divisive and manipulative politics between the downtown corporate welfare control freaks and its liberal Citizens (of which the enviros are just the latest patsies) it is essential that Seattle be broken up into smaller units.

      More to the point of transit and density – In Tacoma we’re finalizing a redo of our Mixed Use Center code – and concurrency issues are the most active.

      In Pierce County where there is much more **ugly** sprawl than in King we still subsidize every new house to the tune of $96,000 in infrastructure while Tacoma still has plenty of school space, etc.

      Now, I’m not suggesting we subsidize transit to the extent of $100k per new urban unit, **BUT** shouldn’t there be some financial consistency to GMA concurrency requirements?

      1. It’s really hard to read that first sentence, but past that, just removing some of the subsidies to sprawl is the first step. Don’t bother subsidizing in the core, just *not* expanding highways would be a great start.

      2. If one agrees with that first sentence you talked about Ben, we should go one further, divisive politics is a two-way street in this state. The Suburbs have been just as divisive, and then we have Eastern Washington. Seattle had a big head start on the suburbs, and that makes city-haters jealous. We also had a good thing going until the pro-automobile interests decided to build the big highways.

        The old streetcar network covered places people thought streetcars could not go. The Trolleybus network that replaced them did a good job, until again, somebody thought, oh, electric transit is obsolete, let’s try this diesel bus out. Now we have Metro facing tough funding woes, suburbs stealing Seattle Bus Service and saying that Seattle should accept the punishment because the suburbs need the service. If Seattle gets broken up like Douglas Tooley suggests, so should Bellevue. As for being divisive, that first sentence of his is divisive in itself.

        Getting closer to Opening Day of LINK Light Rapid Transit. It should probably see Seattle grow some more. We may never see $1 per gallon gas again. I doubt Metro will ever pay that little for diesel again either.

      3. Ben’s got it here. The state spends so much money to make it worth living in the exurbs that it’s a wonder that the city is growing at all. It shows a very strong preference shift toward urban living for the younger generation.

      4. I’ll go the opposite direction, I say make all of King county inside the urban growth boundary part of Seattle. We are Seattle, the suburbs will be assimilated, resistance is futile.

      5. Sometimes I thought of making Seattle, Shoreline, possibly everything South of Renton that is west of I-5 a City/County, but it would never work.

  1. That’s exciting! And we might even bump up one in the rankings above Milwaukee, which appears to be losing residents.

  2. And Seattle’s population in 1960 was 557,087. So in 45 years we’ve gained about 45,000 people, or, 1000 people per year.

    1. If you take a glass of water, freeze it, then set it on the counter again on a day that’s a degree warmer, exactly how much of a lie is it to say “this glass of water only changed a degree a day”?

      Seattle lost population during white flight and suburbanization, just like every other US city. The growth trend is obviously not 1000 a year, it’s many times that.

      1. Exactly. The population was about 480,000 in 1980. So over the last 29 years, it’s been about 4,000 per year.

    2. Growth was -4% and -7% in 1970 and 1980, respectively. Boeing’s bust, suburban growth, a temporary diminishing of the military-industrial complex and such all contributed to a net loss of around 65,000 residents. In about 30 years, we’ve gained 110,000 residents.

  3. From personal experience, it seems there are a lot of sold but not inhabited homes in the Central District in those new townhomes and rebuilds. Personally, I think that with those who move in summer when their kids are out of school and the folks who bought homes but did not have the means to finish their move, we may see slightly more than projected, unless they’re moving from other parts of Seattle, which doesn’t seem to be the case.

    Oh, and the block across the street from where I’m at now added 40 people in 2 years.

    I like these numbers!

  4. from what I understand the modest population growth belies very large growth in the number of units. I believe the totally number of multi-family units in Seattle has increased from about 90k in 1990 to about 130k today. What has offset that is the residential household size has declined precipitously. what I think we can expect looking ahead is that the growth in units will slow, but the HH size will increase due to what I believe will be a prolonged period of low economic growth, and people will consolidate (live at home longer, get a roommate, etc.) to save money. If the price of oil trends sharply upward over the mid-term, I think this trend may be enhanced.

    1. Yep, and we’ll get more units from the mother-in-law provisions that have started just in SE Seattle, as people can somewhat cheaply convert an outside garage to an income source.

      1. Do the mother-in-law provisions still require an extra parking space for the new unit? If so, I suspect we’re not going to get all that many new units. (Relative to, say, a single 500 unit building under construction in Bitter Lake.)

      2. Yes. They do still require additional spots outside of “urban centers”.

  5. Also if Seattle made building a “mother-in-law” type town homes easier the density would also rise. With the future being higher cost energy, having a smaller home, and sharing it with older relatives is going to be more desirable. Having a house which also has decent local services available via walking also makes it attractive vs living out in the exhurbs. Of course if Seattle could fix it’s schools that would also increase the population density as many people who live in Seattle leave as soon as they have school age children which also lowers the density numbers.

    1. Building mother in laws by converting garages is pretty easy today. You just do it – nobody bothers you unless you have a noisy resident. In fact, I recently lived in one!

      Allowing more permits is just a matter of time, but I’ve heard of no one being turned away so far – unless you know someone who’s failed to get a permit?

  6. Seattle’s demographic is changing. While the city has been adding 4,000 people a year the Seattle School District has been seeing decreasing enrollment to the tune of 500 students a year. One of the factors which lead to a decline in population was families with children leaving the city. It maybe that few people are leaving and kids are simply getting older and moving on but it’s clear the population moving into the city are not on whole families with kids. The perception is a young upwardly mobile demographic is driving growth. Normally that would bode will for increased funding and attention to quality schools. But if the new demographic is not inclined to have families with school age children perhaps this will prove false and the explosive growth of the last decades outside of the Seattle City Limits will continue it’s long term trend. A 7% growth rate for the decade pales in comparison to Bellevue’s average ten year growth rate of more than 10% (no annexation) to greater than 20% with annexations for the last three decades. Bellevue’s density is starting to max out and will undoubtedly always be well below that of Seattle. But the growth will continue to sprawl outside of Seattle unless the City once again becomes family friendly.

    PS Lots of wonky info at the Washington OSPI site. Sorting through the data it looks like student enrollment in Seattle has remained virtually constant from 1997-2008 (62,428 vs 62,561). While the number of students in Seattle hasn’t increased with the surge in general population the parents of school age children are increasingly abandoning public school in favor of private schools.

    1. IT’s not just families leaving. If you go to the neighborhoods I grew up in – Capitol Hill and Wallingford – it’s a lot of older people. They obviously don’t have kids. But when they move out, maybe some younger families could move in, but I doubt it. Those houses are all worth a million or more, what young family can afford that?

      I think the Bellevue comparison isn’t perfect: Bellevue isn’t like a normal suburb. Bellevue, Tacoma, and to a lesser extent Everett are satellite cities. There are totally suburban parts, sure, but Seattle has those as well.

      1. Bellevue isn’t a normal suburb now but it was 20-30 years ago. Same could be said for Redmond. An evolution into a job center in it’s own right is a pretty normal course of events. Both Bellevue and Redmond are like Seattle now in that more people commute in to jobs than commute to jobs outside their city limits. As this change occurs the “normal” suburbs reach farther out to support not just the “new” cities but also Seattle.

        There’s a fair number of million dollar plus homes in Bellevue but on whole they do a better job of attracting families with children than Seattle. These neighborhoods of million dollar homes don’t lend well to upzoning (Capital Hill being an exception) so what happens is a loss of density in those areas. This has happened along the eastern edge of Bellevue (i.e. Lake Samammish) but it’s happening to a greater extent in Seattle in places like Leshi, Madrona, Magnolia, etc.

      2. Bellevue isn’t a normal suburb now but it was 20-30 years ago. Same could be said for Redmond.

        I don’t agree with these statements. What makes a suburb a suburb? What makes a “city” a city? Is it “more people commute in to jobs than commute to jobs outside their city limits”? Parts of Bellevue are residential suburban, parts are suburban commercial, parts are urban residential and parts are urban commercial.

        I don’t really know how to say one place is a suburb and another is. But I know this: Tukwila has a 4 to 1 employment to resident ratio and there’s no way I can accept that place is a “city”.

      3. I have a hard time believing Bellevue is a city; a city with a skyline no less! But things change. Suburban is sub urban. That implies a bedroom community adjacent to an economic center. An economic center is different than just employment. Retail for example exists largely as a suburban function to serve an urban economic center. I think that’s what differentiates Redmond, Renton and Bellevue from Tukwila. I’d hesitate to say Tukwila isn’t a city but it isn’t really a normal suburb either. That’s why I’d say Redmond and Bellevue were “normal” suburbs 30 years ago but have evolved. Renton on the other hand had Boeing and PacCar and has been a regional economic engine for decades.

    2. I can’t make sense of all the different reports, but at least someone thinks Seattle Public Schools’ enrollment has been up the past two years (also here). There’s a lot of movement within the city, though. The public/private issue has a lot of variables including how much money you think you had in stocks or home equity.

      It will be very interesting to see the demographics in 2010. I’m a young parent and know quite a few other young parents. Some of us have decided to stay in the city, others moved out (due to a lot of factors including jobs… in Bellevue!) I don’t really have a strong guy feeling about whether the city is “family friendly,” though I think the parks have done a really great job via the levy (new playgrounds at Cal Anderson, Cascade Playfield, and Denny Park we have enjoyed many times). A lot of family stuff is somewhat beyond their control–target markets on developments, non-profits like the zoo, availability of child care, etc.

  7. I’m not sure how much the population of Seattle proper matters. The city annexed several areas from Ballard to 145th and Columbia City to Roxbury/Leo when annexation was fashionable. Then the “local control” movement started and suburbs incorporated independently. If that hadn’t happened, Seattle could have easily extended through Shoreline and Mercer Island. (One early proposal had suggested Mercer Island as a park.) Toronto, in contrast, did annex three built-up suburbs in the past decade, which made the city’s population appear magically closer to LA’s.

    Meanwhile, northeast Seattle looks very suburban east of 15th and north of 75th. Most of it is houses on larger lots than in the inner-city areas, and the 72 runs once an hour on evenings/Sundays. There’s little difference either side of 145th. Likewise south Beacon Hill vs Skyway.

    So, Seattle has remained at 500,000 for three decades until five years ago, big whoop. The point is that Pugetopolis has doubled or tripled during that time, and is now around 3.2 million. It’s minorly interesting that population within the city has recently gone up, but on the whole it’s just a political boundary.

    As for household size, Seattle is vying with San Francisco as the most childless city in the US. Some years we’re ahead; some years they’re ahead.

    1. I think you’ve missed the point, Mike. Seattle, Bellevue and Tacoma growing faster than the state shows that growth management is working better than before and that re-urbanization is happening.

    2. The gist of this is that the new construction is increasingly dense, in urban corridors, rather than out in Sammammish. You’re using a big brush to paint ‘north of 75th’, look at the new higher density development around 125th and Lake City, for instance. These changes are happening.

    3. You’re correct that population of Seattle isn’t as important as dense areas. However, it’s shorthand since easy stats are available for city vs county, and most density is in Seattle.

  8. No, my facts were right, so I was right. Since 1960, Seattle’s population has only increased by 45,000 people. You can scream at that fact, or say it’s wrong, or become angry. It doesn’t matter. I am 100% correct.

    Oh, and you’re imagining me typing this with a smug, self-satisfied look on my face, you’d be right.

    1. Sure Sam, you’re right. However, it’s more useful to consider current trends than 1960 vs 2008. Andrew did a spot-on job at that in the post.

  9. Sam you can be both correct and wrong. The use of correct factual data does not necessitate that the conclusion thereof are accurately or truthfully. Seattle has declined in population for several decades and is now on an upswing as are all desirable central cities. This is my conclusion for the data.

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