Seattle skyline. Photo by Oran.

According to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the city of Seattle gained an estimated 13,707 new residents between 2008 and 2009. The new official population estimate — 617,334 — is a 2.3% gain from last year’s estimate and represents 9.4% growth from the year 2000.

A slightly hysterical article that appeared a 2006 edition of the Seattle PI question former Mayor Nickels’ suggestion that Seattle could grow to 923,000 by 2040, but in the unlikely event that Seattle continues to gain population at 2.3% per year, its population will be much higher by that year: just under 1.3 million.

Bellevue, largest suburban city in King County, had 126,626 residents in 2009, the Bureau says. Bellevue grew slightly faster than Seattle last year — 2.5% — and has seen a 12.6% growth in population since 2000.

Seattle is the 23rd largest city in the county, behind Boston (20th), Baltimore (21st), and El Paso (22nd). Bellevue is much further down the list, at 192. Seattle had muted growth in the early part of the decade, probably related to the dot-com bubble and subsequent recession. Since 2004, though, Seattle has had strong year-over-year growth and has grown faster than the next four largest cities.

Figures for 2010 population estimates will be released next year, when the 2010 census is completed.

44 Replies to “U.S. Census: Seattle Gains 13.7k Residents”

  1. San Francisco has more than 800,000 people in a little more than half of Seattle’s land area. I don’t think 1 million people in Seattle is at all unbelievable when you realize just how far the city limits extend. But that article makes it sound like some kind of doomsday scenario.

    1. Seattle is 83 square miles. Vancouver, BC, which is a very livable city with much better transit, lots of great neighborhoods and 80% single family housing is 44 square miles, yet their population is roughly the same as ours (578,000 as of 2006). That puts their population density at 13,800 people per square mile compared to Seattle’s 7,400. If we were to build out to their density, which again is very, very livable, we’d have a population of about 1.15 million. 1.3 million would put us at an average density of 15,600, which is still less than San Francisco is today (17,300 per sq. mi.).

      Unlike Seattle, however, Vancouver is a very family friendly city. They also have less traffic and more parks per capita than we do, and much, much better transit. Vancouver has not only managed to preserve its best neighborhoods, but has created entirely new neighborhoods like Yaletown that are far more livable today than they were decades ago. We definitely can become a city of 1 million, but we have to have both the wisdom and the guts to do it right.

      1. While I agree that Vancouver, BC is a “livable” city (not sure about family friendly compared to Seattle), I’m curious about your traffic and parks figures. When I’ve visited, traffic has seemed even worse than Seattle (which is okay if you’ve got decent transit), and from the figures I’ve seen, Seattle has more than double the parkland of Vancouver, which would give us about twice as many units of park per resident.

        Seattle: 400 parks, 6,200 acres of park land

        Vancouver, BC: “Close to 3,000 acres of parks”

        I don’t see how Vancouver could have more. Sure they have Stanley Park, and that big park area near UBC, but we’ve got Seward Park, Discovery Park, Magnuson Park, Greenlake Park, Volunteer Park, Cal Anderson Park, the Arboretum, Interlaken Park, Lincoln Park, Ravenna Park, Olympic Sculpture Park and Waterfront Park, just to name some of the larger ones.

        I can’t think of another major city that can top Seattle for parks per capita.

      2. Both our comments got held up by the spam filter, so I didn’t see that you’d basically said the same thing as me hours earlier. And even though I cited the same numbers you do, a little better Googling led to better numbers.

        Vancouver’s 3200-acre official number is for parks, whereas Seattle’s 6200 is for all open or natural areas; in actuality, only “2,300 acres of this is developed parkland”. So acres per capita of bona fide park probably does work out in Vancouver’s favor, but Seattle still claims twice as many parks (not just “open areas”) as Vancouver, and we apparently have more green belts, natural areas, etc.

      3. “not sure about family friendly [in Vancouver”.

        What Vancouver has is amenities. Yaletown and the West End have several supermarkets and drugstores within walking distance. Some residential intersections have little parks with benches that block through traffic. I’ve heard there are schools somewhere. But I’ve never actually met a family with children there.

      4. I agree that Vancouver is a more livable city, but with Seattle claiming more than twice as many parks as Vancouver, your parks per capita number seems like BS.

        “Vancouver has more than 221 municipal parks adding up to 1,295 hectares [3200 acres] (or 11% of City’s land). Of these parks, 130 are larger than 1 hectare (2.5 acres) in size (which is the size of a typical city block). Stanley Park is our largest park with 391 hectares [966 acres].”[source]

        “The [Seattle] Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) manages more than 400 parks and open areas in its approximately 6,200 acres of property throughout the City … The park system comprises about 11% of the City’s land area. It includes approximately 485 buildings, and 450 parks that feature 185 athletic fields and 122 children’s play areas, 26 community centers, 151 outdoor tennis courts…”[source]

      5. Well Vancouver and Seattle have similar numbers of people but we have twice as many acres of park.

      6. See my reply above. Seattle actually has twice as many parks, but fewer acres of “developed parkland”, which is probably what people mean when they say “park” (the undeveloped stuff is presumably greenbelts, street ends, etc—greenery but not parkland per se).

    2. It’s pretty uphill. Consider how big Seattle’s Industrial area is: more than 2% of Seattle’s area is Boeing Field, and that’s a small part of the SODO-to-Tukwila Industrial Zone. Think again that Seattle’s base population is 480,000 – that was the low-point. So we’ve gained 130K over a period that included that largest investment in real estate in recent memory.

      Add in green-belts and hills and what not, and without serious commitment to density -aka rezoning single-family areas to mixed-use- Seattle will have a hard time getting to anything past 800,000.

      My point isn’t that we won’t get there (who cares, I’ll be 60!). My point is that it’s not a forgone conclusion, and much of what needs to happen to make positive urban improvements – the sort that make those extra 200K people show up for work and play – haven’t yet happened.

  2. While that’s true, an increase of 400k implies a fairly extensive rebuild of large portions of the city and over not that long a time period. Disruptive change of that nature can be frightening. All other things being equal we are becoming more like San Francisco. My hope is we manage to preserve the parts of Seattle’s neighborhoods today that are great while such a process occurs.


    1. I think you had a typo there, you said “can be frightening” when I’m sure you meant “would be totally awesome” :)

      1. As long as the Seattle Fault line doesn’t plan on going West by 2023 like San Fransisco will. (Go North…it’s currently 17+ft out of alignment and in 1904 it moved 23 ft. Since then it hasn’t moved at all….)

      2. Quake damage from Chile points out that mid-rise buildings (10+ stories)react poorly to subduction events due to the resonance of the buildings, and the shake waves generated, even at todays building codes. They fare better to smaller crustal quakes with shorter duration waves.
        I guess the lessons emerging are that for the really big one(8.0+) you want to be in a really tall or fairly short building, with a boxy appearance and no basement parking garages unless reinforced to the hilt.
        At least the next 400,000 residents should consider that when buying a condo.

      3. There’s also a typo up there where it suggests Seattle is the 23rd. largest city in the county. :)

    2. My hope is we manage to preserve the parts of Seattle’s neighborhoods today that are great while such a process occurs.

      That’s fine depending on what you think the great parts are. For too many residents it’s “ready availability of free parking,” or “relatively uncongested arterials,” or “exclusive single family zoning.” That’s not going to fly.

      1. Lets cut to the chase. Seattle currently has engaged in a balancing act between SFH neighborhoods and the need to accept a rising population by trying to channel the growth into several relatively small areas. If growth of this magnitude really occurs I believe this system will break down. There just isn’t enough land zoned to provide that many new housing units.

        I’m not personally interested in free parking or arterials but I do care about the character of some our streets and the historic housing stocks. I’d hate to see large portions of the historic bungalow neighborhoods torn down alot of which are fairly close in and under a logical expansion would end up being built up. We’ll never rebuild structure like these again. They’re too wood intensive, and involve craftsmanship that would be too expensive today. They’re also typically on fairly small lots at around .1 of an acre. Even so they were not built out to the property lines and done in such a scale that a fair amount of green space was left.

        I wonder also about the composition of the city as this occurs. I’d expect following the trend for other larger cities like San Francisco that this would lead to less children and families living in the city given the space requirements. Maybe this is the proper market outcome.

        Alot of this is an organic process and not really controllable by any single person or government. Density increases land value which drives development and pressures the city to allow further growth. I look at the results of this process already occuring. For instance, Ballard has really transformed over the last 10 years. While I love walking along the waterfront the residential blocks full of six packs and some of the current new crop of apartment buildings leave me cold. (Although I’ll take an apartment over a sixpack anyday) New housing can be great but I’ve certainly seen alot of horrible redevelopement.

        Having said all that I’ll admit to being torn. There are “awesome” possibilities as this growth occurs but at the same time significant risks depending on what you value. This is why I originally characterized the possiblity as scary. When I think about a best case outcome for all of this, I often return to the model of Paris. A city of midscale buildings that adequately houses enough people to support their metro but is still highly livable. So there you go: I have some visions, I have alot of worries and most of the process is probably going to happen organically anyway.


      2. Just on one point, at least by 2000 census results not clear there’s actually a substantial difference in children between SF and Seattle now. SF has 14.5% of the population under 18, seattle has 15.6% (note Boston, for instance has a somewhat substantial amount more at 19.8%, and Portland has 21.1%)

        Just played around

      3. By the way, San Fransisco and Seattle are actually outliers in their low percentage of kids, and it’s a longstanding statistic not anything recent. Seattle has actually retained more child residents than Washington as a whole in the past decade, as have Vancouver and Portland than their respective areas:

        As an urban resident with kids, I don’t think there are any space “requirements” that the city can’t fill; for example, our neighborhood park is far larger and better equipped than any backyard. The Children’s Museum, Pacific Science Center, etc. are within walking distance. Living in an apartment or condo is a different life than a suburban house, but it works fine with kids. Some of us even prefer it.

        That said, Seattle could do better with encouraging good design such as Vancouver’s “High-Density Housing for Families with Children” guidelines.

  3. But wait, John Bailo says we’re “rapidly depopulating.” What gives?

    1. I am not sure what John Bailo meant by that but I will say this I think the number of people to the suburbs to the number of people in Seattle is growing eg 5 (suburb) to 1 (Seattle) in 2000 and 5.5 to 1 in 2010

      1. Patrick, is there evidence of this claim? I included statistics for Bellevue in the original post that are hardly 5 to 1.

      2. I was just using 5 to 1 and 5.5 to 1 as examples as I have no idea what the ratio is. I guess I should have made that a little more clear.

      3. In 2008, the estimated population for the Seattle metropolitan area was about 3,344,813. This includes all of King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. (I don’t know where to find 2009 numbers right now.)

        In 2009, the estimated population for King County was 1,916,441.

        Needless to say, there are parts of Seattle that, by any measure, are less dense than parts of Bellevue, and maybe even parts of Kirkland/Redmond/other cities.

        I’d be interested to see how many residents of the Seattle metro area lived in census-designated blocks with density higher than 5,000/6,000 people per square mile.

    2. I’ve got it! Maybe when Bailo says “depopulating”, he means that the number of people is increasing.

    3. I believe he also claimed New York and LA were depopulating which, of course, is ludicrous.

  4. What we need to do now it commit to concentrating that growth into urban villages that already exist, like Snohomish county has done. Places like the UW, Capitol Hill, and so on can take much more density, while still providing seattle with both quiet and lively neighborhoods.

    1. We’re happy to take new growth in Capitol Hill, if the single family neighborhoods step up and support public funding for the kind of amenities that make density livable. You want us to take the density and take the pressure off your single family neighborhood? Then you have to pay for the amenities that make it work.

    2. I think we should concentrate very dense development in those urban centers and larger urban villages, but then also lots of 4 or 6 story development in the cores of our neighborhoods, retaining the characters of neighborhoods while adding in a lot of people.

  5. I’ll be interested to see the the official counts from US Census next year. So far all we’re working with are estimates. The state Office of Financial Management estimated Seattle’s population at 602,000 as of April 1, 2009. OFM’s numbers appear to be consistently lower than those from the Census, and I’m curious as to why. I don’t know what methodology the Census uses.

  6. Redmond grew by almost 16%, Covington grew by over 34% and Issaquah a staggering 122%. You have to be careful though when looking at suburban population figures because the increase in population is often because of annexation. Density may actually decrease even though population increases.

    1. And also, having a high percentage growth is pretty easy when your starting population is low.

  7. One thing that the city will need more of are main arterials. Going N/S, especially on the NW side of the city, is going to be very difficult.

  8. Hydrogen, Hydrogen, Hydrogen.

    PRT, PRT, PRT.

    Kent, Kent, Kent.

    One of those should work. ;)

  9. Seattle/Bellevue is getting better all the time. I love Vancouver and San Francisco. But overall, Seattle/Bellevue is a much better place to live – you can live really well in San Francisco at triple the cost of Seattle. Vancouver can be dull.

    It is really pretty easy to see how Seattle could support a million plus residents.

    What I worry about is whether we’ll grow close to our jobs. If the topic is transportation, you really need the job and population numbers on the same page.

    There’s a ton of empty office space in downtown Seattle right now……along with lots of empty condos. I hear there are lots of empty condo towers in Bellevue.

    This is hopefully just a blip in a really rough economy. But Vancouver has trouble keeping jobs near all its great downtown housing.

    BTW, San Francisco is about to get a lot more dense. There’s one tall new tower SOM already and later this summer ground will be broken on a whole new city there, completely transit oriented and hopefully the hub of future high speed rail to LA.

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