Detail from Sound Transit mailer for ST3 Open House.

Recently, Matthew shared some 2014 population statistics that once again showed the City of Seattle leading King County growth.

Looking at more detailed city data across the region, the news is more complex and yet more encouraging. Not only is Seattle leading King County, but much of the growth elsewhere in the County is coming from the central Eastside. In 2014, Seattle grew 2.3%. Among the cities of the central Eastside, Bellevue grew 1.8% in 2014, Redmond 3.0%, Kirkland 1.5%. Renton grew 1.3%, and all of the rest of King County averaged just 1.1%.

Major cities in Pierce and Snohomish Counties (and in South King) lagged further. Everett was + 1.2%, Tacoma + 0.9%, Federal Way + 0.7%, Kent + 0.8%.

This mostly looks like concentric circles of slower growth the further one gets away from downtown Seattle.

Growth_By_Subarea2King County has some outposts of higher growth at the edge of the Urban Growth Area (UGA), where large developments are transforming some small cities. Over the last four years, Snoqualmie has averaged 4.1% growth per year. North Bend and Duvall exceeded 3%, and even Issaquah has averaged 2.8% growth as the Highlands are built out. But these four cities accounted for less than 5% of all growth in King County.

Overall, most population growth in King County seems associated with redevelopment, with the fastest infill growth rates in Seattle and the Eastside around Bellevue. The further one moves from Seattle and Bellevue, the less redevelopment one sees. On the edge of urban King County, this is offset by high percentage growth rates associated with greenfield development (where the denominator is correspondingly small).

Distribution of Regional Growth across areas (Unincorporated RTA included with non-RTA).
Distribution of 2010-2014 regional growth across areas (unincorporated RTA included with non-RTA).

Contra King County, both Snohomish and Pierce are still seeing most of their growth in the outlying areas. The primary city in each county lags the other cities which in turn lag the unincorporated areas and smaller cities outside the core. Sprawl, in other words. Everett’s average growth rate is a modest 0.8%, vs. 0.9% for the other cities in the Snohomish subarea, and 1.8% for the outlying cities and unincorporated areas.

Analysis of Snohomish County growth is complicated by large unincorporated areas between the major cities. Unlike King, where few unincorporated areas remain within the Urban Growth Boundary after annexations to neighboring cities, the Southwest Snohomish UGA is a patchwork of cities separated by large, and sometimes faster-growing, unincorporated communities. On the above chart, some of the growth in “Snohomish, non-RTA + Unincorporated” is actually within the RTA area, but a city-level dataset reported unincorporated areas as a single unit.

Regional_Growth_Chart_2Looking at the share of County growth, Everett accommodated 7% of Snohomish County growth in the last 4 years, vs. 57% for the unincorporated areas (in and out of the UGA). In contrast, just 10% of King County’s growth was in unincorporated areas, with another 5% in small cities outside the Sound Transit RTA.

The data sheds some light on the oft-criticized Everett growth projections. After adding 44,000 residents in just four years, the projection of 200,000 more County residents in the next twenty looks very plausible. Snohomish’ challenge is to more than quadruple Everett’s share of that growth. The fastest growing cities in Snohomish are Bothell and Mill Creek, boosted by commuters to Seattle and the Eastside. Unincorporated areas close to King County may be growing even more quickly. If King County’s jobs growth is driving Snohomish residential growth, then directing commuter-led growth to a city ten miles further from King County workplaces won’t be easy.

We’re correspondingly reminded how the Eastside’s traffic congestion is related to high housing costs. I-405 is seeing the impacts of  “drive till you qualify” as economic growth bumps up against the King County’s regulatory limits on residential development, and pushes residential growth further along the I-405/SR 167 corridor.

The pattern in Pierce County is similar to Snohomish. The Pierce County UGA has a less fragmented set of core cities than Snohomish, but also includes an extensive swathe of unincorporated exurban communities. Tacoma is a larger city than Everett. But Tacoma’s growth nevertheless lags somewhat, with 0.8% average growth vs 1.1% for the balance of the Pierce subarea cities, and 1.3% elsewhere. Tacoma, as a larger city, accommodated 19% of Pierce County growth, but 50% of all growth in Pierce County was in unincorporated areas.

South King lies somewhere in the middle. Auburn is outpacing other cities. Otherwise, growth is mostly slow, but evenly distributed, with most cities generally averaging about 1% per year, and no well-defined focus for growth.

How fast might cities in the region grow if recent trends are sustained? If the growth rates of the last four years were sustained over the next 25, Seattle would grow 76%, Bellevue 47%, Tacoma 23%, and Everett 23%. Other large cities in King County would also grow strongly (Renton +50%, Kirkland +45%, and Kent +40%). The pace of growth in Seattle, and some others, will surely bump up against development capacity. Neither Seattle nor many Eastside cities have planned for such growth rates to be sustained, so zoning limitations will constrain many cities if growth doesn’t slow organically. But current trends should prompt a rethink of regional projections.

113 Replies to “Growth is centralizing in Seattle and the Eastside”

  1. It always amazes me that Federal Way is such a laggard. And now they are actively and vehemently fighting a Hwy 99 alignment for Link — an alignment that would remove fewer houses, increase more property values, and result in more TOD and future business development.

    Is it possible that Federal Way’s laggardly ways are due more to their policies than to anything else? Because being so close to Seattle and so cheap you would expect them to be booming, but nooooo…..

    1. I agree! They are trying so hard to jump start their downtown by the mall. So many failed developments there. Maybe the cheapness of the area prohibits developers from building up since the numbers don’t work out. How can the city lure developers and jobs downtown??

      1. It makes so much sense to those looking in from outside, but FW really doesn’t want “disruptions.” Considering they just lost Weyerhauser, I think they need to reconsider their I-5 preference. Use this thing to generate some economic activity, ya know?

  2. This may be a little bit off topic, but did you guys see the new tech school that UW and the Chinese MIT built right around the LINK station?? This should be our go to example of transit influencing development.

      1. I hope you’re right, Zach, but I can’t see it in that article. Do you have a better source?

      2. “GIX will be located on Seattle’s Eastside in Bellevue’s Spring District, a new urban development built around planned light rail.”

      3. Well, yes, I saw that, but was that the reason they chose it or just a pleasant coincidence?

      4. It’s not 100% proof, but what does a university campus need? It needs to accommodate thousands of people coming to the facility every day, from all over the region. People who are often low paid or on stipends and in their early 20s who may not be able to drive and pay for parking every day. This particular campus will attract a lot of international visitors staying in hotels or short-term housing. Meaning they don’t own a car here, and they see a subway as a normal way to get around, and would actually think something was wrong if it there wasn’t HCT nearby. The Chinese university partner is probably more sensitive to that than American institutions are. The UW has a long experience now with non-automobile access to its campuses. Seattle has the U-Pass and a (less than ideal) Link station. Bothell was located where a transit center could be built and next to a regional trail and “near” a city center. Tacoma is right downtown. And an Eastside tech instition will have have a significant number of people living in Seattle and eager to take Link to it, moreso than another kind of institution would. Another kind of institition would attract Eastside drivers and almost nobody else, so it might as well go to Factoria or Totem Lake where it could have a larger parking lot.

        What else does the Spring District have going for it? It doesn’t exist yet. It won’t be very large or have any other extraordinary amenities. It won’t have enough housing for everybody at the center. It has an aura that impresses Bravern shoppers, but that’s not enough to swing a university’s decision. So why else would it choose the Spring District? And where else could it locate? The first things that come to mind are 116th Auto Row, Factoria, and Totem Lake. (I assume Overlake is too built up with vibrant businesses to have room for such a large redevelopment.) 116th could have been a possibility perhaps. Factoria and Totem Lake don’t have the access, and are further away from the tech industry concentration.

        In Seattle we might want to think about, this is the kind of jobs/education institution that Northgate and Mt Baker are meant to attract, because one is an urban center an the other is a hub urban village. So how can we get organizations like that there? And how can we overcome the Mt Baker NIMBYs who don’t want any growth at all and stunted the rezone?

      5. The “Spring District” is itself completely predicated upon a light rail station. Right now it is warehouses and such. It is Bellevue’s answer to SLU. No light rail, no “Spring District”. The developer clearly stated that the whole concept is TOD.

      6. Hmm… international visitors… from SeaTac airport… taking Link to the Spring District… getting to Intl Dist station and having to go up to the surface and reverse directions to get to the Eastside train. Sound Transit said not many people would transfer between east and south so a center platform wasn’t necessary. Sounds like it’s becoming a step more important. Although if the visitors are Chinese, they might not mind getting a glimpse of Chinatown while they transfer, and may linger there for a few minutes.

        Of course there’s the 560, but visitors are less likely to know about that, and afraid of getting lost on a bus. And the thought of spending 45 minutes on a bus on a suburban freeway is not that pleasant.

    1. concur 100%. My understanding is that the future LR station is one of the reasons that led the UW to select that site.

      Assuming that FW doesn’t go super stupid and fight placing a Link station at Highline CC, we will have an interesting situation developing. Highline, Seattle Central, UW and North Seattle will all be connected by one LR line, and this new facility in the Spring District will be connected to the UW and everything else via East Link.

      It’s almost as if ST is dong a better job supporting higher ed than the state legislature is doing….

      1. I’ve been thinking about calling Link “The Subway to the Five Malls”. But “The Subway to the Colleges” sounds more impressive.

      2. The Education Line to Education Hill.

        (And if Bailo has anything to say about it, to High School Road on Bainbridge Island.)

      3. Since this institution is a co-op with Tsinghua, perhaps it should be “The Line of the Five Happiness”?

    2. Funny, I see this as height and density limits pushing an entire university out of Seattle. The natural place for this would be near UW but not on campus (it’s partially owned by another university, so on campus would have not been appropriate). That way they could share teachers and students. However, there’s nowhere nearby that would allow an 11 story building. You’d have to go all the way to downtown, and prices there are quite high.

      Yes, transit likely pulled them to that specific location, but it seems like Seattle pushed them away from here.

      1. I believe the proposed U-Dist rezone would allow way more than an 11 story building….

        I suspect having an expanded UW presence on the eastside was part of the draw of the Spring District, and having a direct LR connection to UW helped mitigate the effect of distance/traffic.

      2. Those trying to save “the unique character of the [U-District, in this case] neighborhood” are doing exactly the opposite.

      3. Meh.

        The Chinese are all about building these sorts of satellite institutions to custom spec on the outskirts of their own cities.

        Their local partners probably sold them on the transit plans for the area, but I’d bet the length of time that will elapse between now and the existence of said transit has not fully sunk in. Subway construction in China is not measured in decades.

      4. Also they may want the option to expand more cheaply if the concept is successful. Im sure they could get a good deal as an anchor property in the Spring District, a deal that inner city property owners would not be interested in.

      5. There’s also the existing concentration of tech companies/entrepreneurs/employees on the Eastside, and the need to train future ones which is the purpose of this project.

      6. The original university was downtown, thus “University Street”. The federal government gave territories three amenities: a university, a capitol, and a prison. We got the university. Olympia got the capitol (after “Capitol Hill” tried for it). Walla Walla got the prison (it was a major town and crossroads in the Inland Empire then). The UW site was originally forest, then the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, then the university’s home. The UW retained ownership of its downtown blocks to produce ongoing income to pay for the school. At various times it has had a UW Bookstore branch, extension classrooms, and/or a Husky shop in the building across from Rainier Square. I believe the UW owns the four blocks around 4th & University, including the Rainier Square block.

      7. “I’d bet the length of time that will elapse between now and the existence of said transit has not fully sunk in.”

        If they haven’t read the timeline that it opens in 2023, they haven’t done their research very well. It’s probably in all the district’s real-estate brochures. And how long will it take to build this thing anyway? If it opens in five years, that’s only three years until Link arrives. They can always take a page from Amazon and buy extra runs on the 226 and 249. (They’ll have to specify articulated buses though.)

      8. A major reason for the slow development of the U-District particularly the south west portion near the ship canal has been out dated sewer and electrical systems that simply could not support large developments plopping 4,000 additional people into the area. The UW wanted to put additional dormitories into that area a long time ago (as far back as the 90s). Over the years the city has fixed that problem and then wham within the last few years we saw multiple new buildings go in.

      9. The dorms were also accelerated because the recession made construction cheap.

      10. And how long will it take to build this thing anyway?

        First matriculation is in the Fall of 2016, per the article.

        And the Tsinghua reps can note on paper that the line has a non-imminent opening date, without internalizing just how it distant the opening date of this (mostly design-settled) line to their chosen location truly is.

        Because that’s how psychology works. If you are accustomed to lines being announced and then existing 2 years later, it will be harder to wrap your head around a decade-long delay in the same process, even if you’ve been explicitly informed.

      11. They’re going to put a 3-story college up in less than one year? Did they already design it before they announced the site selection?

  3. These growth rates seem rather timid, and more to the point, I see no explanation as to why anyone would think they might continue, or increase.

    Looking at the situation, is there still a “unque draw” to this region that isn’t available anywhere else.

    I say, less and less every year.

    It seems if anything my thought on building “more Seattles” has actually happened. Every place is becoming more like Seattle. Starbucks everywhere. Transit everywhere. Gay Marriage everywhere. Legal pot everywhere. Well, not everywhere, but increasingly so. Europe was Seattle before Seattle was Seattle, but now there are or will be Chinese Seattles, Indian Seattles.

    If every place is Seattle, why move? Why not find the cheapest “Seattle” there is in the world and simply stay there.

    1. ” is there still a “unique draw”[sic]?
      Yes, and human effects of global warming is the big driver. The SW United States is frying and drying, while the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf States brace for ever higher tidal events. Polls show that even a majority of the Republicans now admit we are getting warmer, but can’t muster the words to say “we are the ones causing it” yet.
      Seattle is becoming a lifeboat for much of the US, and world for that matter.

      1. Agreed. Seattle will never again be unattractive for migration. A place with abundant water, moderate temperatures, no severe weather, great connections to the entire West Coast and the Asia-Pacific region? We have it better than just about anyone else, and that will only intensify in the coming decades. Rainier and a Megaquake are our only natural (admittedly huge) risks.

      2. So you’re saying 8 billion people are going to move to Seattle in the next decade?

      3. Yes John, 8 Bil sounds about right, but we can move them at 12,000 per hour to Everett, Tacoma and Redmond, so that will only take ….
        [univac whirls]
        … 34 years to move them out to the burbs.

      4. The Great Lakes are a huge draw when it comes to surviving climate change. Huge.

    2. A place does not need a ‘unique draw’ to have population growth. The biggest driver of population growth is something that is quite common: good, high paying jobs.

      1. Where do those jobs come from?

        Private employers locating there.

        Where do private employers locate?

        Where they can get good employees, but also minimize costs.

        If these other cities can “do Seattle” for much less cost, then I would expect jobs to keep people away from, not drawns to, here.

      2. Actually, jobs don’t create population growth. They just help people decide where to live.

        Is it reasonable to ask those wanting to build a wall around Seattle and keep potential new residents out where they think their children should live?

      3. Your premise is clearly false: there are plenty of other factors of why “private employers”, as you call them, locate their offices. Otherwise, New York would have no job growth, the same with San Francisco. It’s not just cost, else we’d see massive job growth in Binghamton, New York or wherever.

      4. Yes, this is it, more than anything. Nothing has changed very much in the last ten years. The weather is about the same (although we have had a couple of very warm years). The schools are about the same. The number of restaurants, pubs and play houses is about the same. What has changed is the number of jobs. Amazon is here and Amazon is booming. Unlike some tech companies, it has embraced the city, rather than try and locate at some suburban office park. This is the best of both worlds for residents. If they are like John and want to live in a suburb, then can take a bus into downtown. If they would rather live in the city, then can do that. This is what is driving regional growth (companies like Amazon).

        At the same time, more and more people want to locate in the city. This is true in most parts of the country. This is driving Seattle’s growth in particular. Despite the very high rents (the result of demand as well as very restrictive zoning) people are moving here. It is way cheaper to find a place in Kent, but way more people would rather live in Seattle, despite the added cost. It wasn’t always that way. But it is now.

      5. John,

        Again and again you argue for “more Seattles”, mostly in the Tri-Cities. Yet you continue to live on East Hill in Kent and complain about the lack of bicycle infrastructure in South King County.

        ¿Cuando estan sus huevos, señor? Por qué no se ha movido alli?

    3. What have gay marriage and legal pot do do with public transit- or for that matter anything else involving anything public. Except that smoking anything is, thank God, illegal on transit. I hate smell of marijuana worse than even bad cigars.

      It is true that Seattle, like every city in the world including Detroit, is becoming a gated community for those who can afford the price of everything. Retired South African secret policemen are probably beside themselves with jealously because while Apartheid pass laws couldn’t keep the races separated, rent and restaurant bills work great.

      Guaranteeing at least some transit routes where legally separate railcars are less necessary than jails. So what’s different about Seattle? Less and less and less.


      1. Well, the SCOTUS might have changed that math a little. It will be interesting to see what happens. Will inclusionary zoning now be a market driven imperative?

    4. Yeah I agree with the others – the mild climate and general progressive attitude of the region will still lure younger talent here for some time (especially since we have some large amazing corporations to work for here).

      We just need to build quality grade separated rail connecting everywhere to move everybody….that would put the region over the top I think!

    5. No matter how much you say people should want to live in Lacey or Spokane or Redding or Kansas City, they don’t. The biggest reason they come here is for jobs, both high-paying and ancillary (construction, retail), In some of your favored places, the most stable and high-paying jobs are at Wal-Mart and McDonald’s. The second reason people come here is for the natural environment and cultural environment. Those haven’t changed much here, but nationally the country is polarizing and many places are becoming more uncomfortable for liberal-leaning types, and climate change is gradually making them less habitable (droughts, hurricanes, etc).

      So why are the jobs here? Because it’s a “creative place”, and the tech industry is highly lucrative in this phase of social-networking everything and digitizing the next layer of records and transactions. Amazon located downtown because it’s a local company and urban workplaces are becoming more popular. Google, Facebook, Apple, Disney, Yahoo, etc opened offices here because they apparently can’t find enough workers willing to live in fucking Silicon Valley.

      The interesting thing is that Seattle desperately wanted to be like San Francisco in the 60s and 70s, then it wanted to be a “World-Class City” in the 90s and early 00s, and now since 2011 it’s suddenly happening and it won’t stop whether we like it or not. (Maybe not “world class”, but “national class”.) The companies are unlikely to all go bankrupt, climate change is unlikely to reverse, so it’s hard to see what would stop or reverse growth. Of course it can’t continue at this high rate forever, but even if it slows down somewhat it’ll still be enough that we can’t ignore. There’s also international tycoons pushing up Eastside real estate to get their kids into good schools and opportunities for American universities and US citizenship. That’s something like international tycoons buying up all the real estate in central New York, London, and Vancouver, causing their housing prices to soar even more, although thankfully we’re not that “world-class” yet.

      Where they can get good employees, but also minimize costs.

      “If these other cities can “do Seattle” for much less cost, then I would expect jobs to keep people away from, not drawns to, here.”

      Then why don’t they do so? Nothing’s stopping them. We aren’t hindering them. There’s plenty of Americans and population increase to go around. And many places really need good jobs because they don’t have any. Denver is succeeding in “doing it” but its housing costs have risen to at least Seattle’s early 2000s level. So why would I want to live in Denver if the cost of living would still be high? I don’t know why they couldn’t keep costs low I bet restrictive zoning is the reason: single-family blocks are sacrosanct and must not be violated, even if they were built when the city was much smaller.

    6. John, where is the most perfect “Seattle” that’s not Seattle? Which city or part of a city most reflects your ideal?

      And second, since we’re talking about jobs, how well are those cities doing about creating jobs and keeping the cost of living low? Is their jobs formula replicable everywhere, or is it based on something intrisically place-bound like oil underground?

    7. Conglomeration effects, the same reason that people keep moving to the Bay Area in spite of other places (like Seattle!) becoming mini-Bay Areas.

    8. is there still a “unque [sic] draw” to this region that isn’t available anywhere else?”

      Yeah, beauty. Serenity (except during the commute of course). Peace.

      Puget Sound — that one’s really hard to duplicate….But perhaps that’s not much of a draw to those who can’t discern a difference between Seattle and Pasco.

      1. In reference to the post about the guy who sold the three-bedroom in Fremont to move to a 4BR in Federal Way: the grandkids of all those New Englanders who sold the family home in Framingham to move to Florida are gonna’ be pissed at grammy and gramps when the multi-decade trickle to the Southland reverses in a tsunami of people headed back north to escape death by heat prostration.

  4. Can this be simplified by the following observation: There are two main types of growth happening – 1) infill in desirable areas close to jobs and 2) greenfield development in the greenfield areas closest to Seattle/Bellevue. What is left out is infill in the less desirable areas.

    Infill is focusing on areas with higher land values and very close proximity to jobs and amenities – namely Seattle and the Eastside. Greenfield is happening on the developable land that has access to Eastside and Seattle jobs – which explains the SW Snohomish figures , and perhaps the rural east king figures as well.

    What isn’t happening is “infill” development in cities that are further away from Seattle and East King jobs prices are lower – Everett, South King. Its these cities that will have the hardest time absorbing growth – they’re too far away from jobs and amenities to attract infill, and have very little greenfield left to attract greenfield development.

    1. Chazz, I think that’s all correct.

      The regional policy question, maybe, is this. King County has done a really good job of directing growth within its borders (assisted by the increasing preference for living in cities). Even in the remoter King County cities like Snoqualmie, the growth is happening in planned communities that are a lot better than the underplanned growth of the past.

      But one adverse impact is to direct sprawly greenfield growth into Snohomish where planning really seems to be very weak. There’s a lot to be said for the Snohomish policy of directing their growth into Everett. But the policy levers to do that seem very weak.

    2. I think that is a good summary. I think it will be interesting to see what happens to cities like Tacoma and Spokane. They are both about the same size (and have been for years). One is a big fish in a small pond. Spokane is the biggest city for hundreds of miles (it is the biggest city along the I-90 corridor between Seattle and Minneapolis). Tacoma is a small fish in a big pond. It is increasingly dependent on Seattle, from what I can tell. UW Tacoma really hasn’t generated the boom for Tacoma that some thought it would. Maybe this is because it is simply too close to Seattle. Graduate, take a look around and next thing you know you are in Seattle. You’ve lost the opportunity to start a new business in Tacoma because you are no longer hanging out with Tacoma grads.

      I honestly don’t know how economic experts predict cities like this will fare, except that cities like Seattle are expected to do better (if I remember right). If Tacoma become more a bedroom community, then it will struggle. There are just cheaper bedrooms out there (many of which are closer).

    3. Again it’s because of jobs. South King County has few jobs except the airport, the Kent industrial district, Southcenter, and what’s left of Boeing. The lack of jobs means low housing prices and long commutes. The lack of cachet (upscale desirability like the Eastside) means the lack of jobs. So who goes first, the chicken (a bold company opening, probably owned by a current South King resident) or the egg (cities making themselves attractive to companies)? Growth will eventually spill over to south King County if it continues at a high rate, just as rents have started to creep up. I just hope that when the companies and housing come, it will be compact development around major transit stops, so that it will be easier to live and work in South King without a car.

      1. Yes, but there was a time (not too long ago) when people would just commute to those jobs. It is kind of crazy to think about it now (partly because it wasn’t that big of an exodus). But white flight did occur (to a small extent) back in the 1980s. People from Wallingford went out to Shoreline or Federal Way. Not because it was cheaper (although it was) but because it was what they wanted. A little more land and a few less … undesirables. Oh, and their kid wouldn’t have to ride a bus all day (oh, the horrors, she might end up having her cultural prejudices shattered).

        Now, of course, someone is asking some guy why he sold his Fremont 3 bedroom for a four bedroom place in Auburn and all he can is “it made sense at the time”. That just isn’t the case any more. The jobs were always in the city* — in many ways more than they are now. But folks didn’t care as much about “walkability” or long commutes. Now they do.

        * To be fair, there were jobs in Renton and Everett, but I don’t include that in the list in part because that is not where people fled. The people who moved there (e. g. long time Boeing employees) moved there years ago and just stuck it out. Generally speaking, the jobs have moved to the suburbs (tech jobs, specifically) not away from them. They are coming back, but only because people want to live in the city. The desirability of the cities was the big change. A generation after Sesame Street aired, people finally figured out that cities are, when you get right down to it, pretty cool.

  5. I’ve recently fallen in love with tacoma.. I wish their downtown would get more attention from developers – so many surface parking lots with potential. Beautiful historic architecture and driving down 705 with the city in the backdrop and the ornate glass bridge…always so pretty!!

    1. Give it time, dude. I’ve worked here in Tacoma for 2.5 years and feel the same way. Tacoma has enough of the city amenities of Seattle, enough decent jobs, enough historic housing stock, and enough density that it is, indeed, getting some attention from some developers. Look no further than 6-story development in Proctor District, the brewery slated for the old Titus-Will Ford in Stadium, a slew of new breweries already open in and around downtown, and a new restaurant coming soon to 26th & Alder. Not to mention, the sheer number of vacant, abandoned, and run-down craftsman homes throughout the city that have been bought, renovated, flipped and sold for profits of over $50k each. Give it time, but get in now while it is still somewhat affordable. Next step needs to be walking away from the failing Pierce Transit system and allowing the Tacoma voters to operate their own robust transit system.

      1. I think you have basically described exactly why Tacoma wants Link so bad. Folks priced out of Seattle and day trippers looking for fun outside of the big city could be a real shot in the arm for their economy.

        Fortunately for Tacoma, they have a much better chance at this in the near term than Everett does.

      2. People who want to live in SFHs but can’t pay Seattle or Bellevue prices could become a big catalyst for Tacoma. You can get a nice home in Tacoma for the price of a 1-bedroom condo in Seattle.

        If Sounder was faster to Seattle, I think Tacoma could become really popular with commuters. 59 minutes NB / 52 minutes SB isn’t terrible, but once you factor in getting to/from the stations it is more like 90 minutes. That’s a lot of time.

      3. “You can get a nice home in Tacoma for the price of a 1-bedroom condo in Seattle. If Sounder was faster to Seattle, I think Tacoma could become really popular with commuters.”

        Tacoma needs to focus on a local economy. Let Auburn and Puyallup and Federal Way be bedroom communities for Seattle. Tacoma would be doing itself no favors by encouraging that. A bedroom community is an incomplete community, a shell with no substance.

        All the way up till the mid 1990s Tacoma and Auburn were a separate job market from Seattle. The Seattle market was almost completely Lynnwood-Bothell-Redmond-Renton-Kent-Des Moines, with few people coming from beyond that. But as land for quarter-acre lots filled up inside the ring and people got willing to do extraordinary exurban commutes, Auburn and Pierce County became more bedroom communities for Seattle. That happened to coincide with the crash in oil prices and the rise of SUVs, which is probably not a coincidence, although it took a decade after the fall in oil prices for exurbia to grow enough to be noticed. (Here of course. In the Bay Area it was a different story because Concord was already built up and SJ-SF commuting was a long tradition, so the distance that we would call exurbs was already in the ring, and Dublin, Hercules, and Vacaville were ready to go.)

        So just like cities need to go back to pre-1940s walkable neighborhoods and go a different direction from the mid 20th century, Tacoma needs to return to being a separate job market from Seattle, and recruiting companies to open there, and people to both live and work in Tacoma and its immediate suburbs. That’s what would create the community that people like Engineer (or me) might want to live in. There’s two essential aspects. One is the desirability of the area. The other is jobs so people can support themselves without 30-mile commutes.

        Then the regional transit will be filled with people going to and from Tacoma for a lot of reasons, not 75% to work in King County. When those two separate job markets are mature, people will still travel back and forth to visit colleagues, attend meetings, attend a unique program at a college, visit friends, go to events, etc.

      4. Regarding Sounder to Tacoma, it doesn’t help that the Tacoma stations are all so poorly located relative to Tacoma proper. There was some effort made to choose the location of Union Station back in the day; the current stations were located around the railway line rather than vice versa, which creates a problem

      5. If you eliminate Euclidean zoning, and allow a mix of commercial and residential (and industrial!) to develop naturally, you can start with a bedroom community… and then once it has a critical mass of population, people start opening businesses there.

        Euclidean zoning prevents this. It attempts to lock “bedroom community” status into amber forever. This is *WHY* Euclidean (residential/commercial/industrial) zoning is a bad thing.

    2. I just posted above about Tacoma ( It isn’t clear to me what will happen, or how to make it happen faster for Tacoma. I like Tacoma, too. It has charm and character. But I’m not sure if that is enough. It is close, but not that close to Seattle. Should it even be looking at Seattle, or should it be more independent (like Spokane)? I don’t know, nor do I know of cities in a similar position that have done really well in the last twenty years. It isn’t Oakland — Oakland is right across from San Fransisco. Fast rail — faster than the commuter rail — could help, but it hasn’t helped Baltimore that much. I think it is possible that it will muddle along for many years and finally solidify as a nice retirement destination. Bellingham did that (not that the cities are similar in size or proximity to Seattle). But there are very nice neighborhoods along with good recreational activities, some good colleges and a bit of industrial and tech jobs mixed in.

      I do think the obsession with Link getting to Tacoma is misplaced. If you are a business owner in Tacoma, I could see how this might excite you, but Federal Way isn’t that big. So while it will be marginally easier for some suburban riders to get to your city, it won’t attract that many. Meanwhile, getting to Seattle (for joint business meetings or as part of a satellite office) would remain a very long trip. Over an hour each way. Like I said, Baltimore has express trains that run a lot more often and a lot faster to D. C. (a city that is booming like Seattle is booming) but it hasn’t allowed Baltimore to thrive.

      1. I’d say that there are enough people who want a bedroom close to amenities that Tacoma will ultimately prosper. Sure, I love Seattle and I would prefer to live there, but if you are going to make me choose between Tacoma, where I can find a job with an equal (or in some cases, better) salary as what I would find in Seattle, and be only 5 or 10 minutes from work and the alternative of a house of equal price & size in Renton or Lynnwood, at least 45 minutes from a Seattle job at rush hour, I’d pick the house in Tacoma 5 or 10 minutes from a good job, with locally-owned quality amenities (restaurants, bars, cafes, parks, waterfront) in my backyard over the nightmarish unwalkable suburban sprawl of Renton or Lynnwood that happens to be 15 minutes closer to Seattle. No, it will never be Seattle, but more and more of us, particularly younger people, are looking for walkable neighborhoods and have been completely priced out of Seattle. Tacoma is really the next best thing in this region.

      2. FWIW, Baltimore suffers from bad transit planning and deadlands caused by expressways. This limits its potential as a DC bedroom community.

        Penn Station is in a weird, isolated location, obstructed by an expressway and in a river gulch — and it isn’t connected to the Baltimore Subway, and it’s only connected to Baltimore Light Rail by a branch. If you want to live within walking distance of Baltimore Penn Station, you have few choices. And those choices — the area known as “Midtown” — are actually doing very well.

        West Baltimore MARC is frankly in a better location in some ways, but still in the middle of a city-ruining expressway, and as such surrounded by no-mans-land. And this is the area where massive governmental racism has been causing problems, and still is causing problems.

        Camden Station is in a much better location in the Inner Harbor, but of course there’s no housing in the immediate vicinity (strictly commercial) and *again* the area’s potential is sabotaged by expressways.

        Unfortunately, Tacoma has the same transit planning problem as Baltimore. Expressways divide Tacoma Sounder from all of Tacoma’s mixed-use and residential neighborhoods.

        Baltimore needs to demolish the monstrous stub exit of I-395 leading to the Inner Harbor, and needs to tear out I-83 as far back as US 1.

        The solution is the same in Tacoma. Tacoma needs to tear out I -705. For the benefit of the Port, 509 can be linked to I-5 further east.

      3. Engineer,

        Right on. Tacoma has “good bones”, at least the parts north of the freeways. It should do well as a “tech incubator” with smallish firms that can’t compete on salaries with the giants in Seattle.

    3. “enough historic housing stock”

      What I notice in Tacoma, Spokane, and Portland is they’ve preserved a lot of the 19th century brick buildings and early 20th century buildings that Seattle has torn down. So Tacoma is well positioned to revive the kind of walkable inner city that people increasingly want, at a price more affordable than Seattle. Aberdeen also has a lot of pre-WWII housing stock, although that’s because it doesn’t have any jobs after the logging decline and can’t afford to build anything. People in Aberdeen seem to commute to Olympia if they don’t work at Wal-Mart or the struggling old businesses. Tacoma has a better change of attracting companies than Aberdeen, but worse than Seattle/Eastside. It also needs to get serious about local transit, but unfortunately it’s hooked to the Pierce Transit district that hates tax increases. Tacoma is essentially putting all its transit eggs into Central Link and Tacoma Link, thus depending on the ST3 package. Even though Tacoma Link will not be comprehensive yet, and Central Link has serious questions about ridership going through empty Fifeland and being slower than ST Express.

      Also, Tacoma Link’s signal priority is awful; why isn’t Tacoma saying more about that? It stops at every block at traffic lights, and part of it is single track so it has to stop for oncoming trains. When I was there a couple months ago and took Link, it was so depressing that I literally took a bus back because I couldn’t bear to sit through such idiotic stoppages. The 594 just keeps moving like a normal bus. PLEASE upgrade Tacoma Link’s existing right of way if the extension is built.

      1. Tacoma Link goes right through most stoplights – I go to Tacoma all the time from Kent, and I take the sounder, then link into town, and then I either walk (as far as ruston way) or I take busses further into Tacoma. Many of my friends live there, so I’m pretty familiar with it. Tacoma link works great. You must have hit it on a one-off really bad day.

      2. I hope so. Maybe that they’re on their best behavior when Sounder is running, and it gets neglected on weekends.

  6. The PSRC needs to up their game on population projections, because what they are projecting doesn’t pass the straight-face test. I feel sorry for the Sound Transit reps forced to repeat silliness like “Everett is projected to grow by 74%” (to 180,000 people) and “Tacoma to grow to 60%” (to 330,000 people), while Seattle will grow by 28% (to 820,000). The Cities of Everett and Tacoma clearly have not been loci of population growth lately.

    ST can’t change it, because they defer to PSRC for regional planning, but it makes them look out-of-touch, and results in skewed transit planning.

    1. If what I keep hearing out of the Mayor’s housing commission is any guide (and we do get upzones in basically every neighborhood) I expect Seattle may overshoot its projection by a significant margin.

      Everett will probably not make theirs without a major new employer up there. Lynnwood and Bothell are probably going to take the lion’s share of that growth spilling over from King County.

    2. I agree that PSRC needs to step up to the place and revisit their projections. Even if Seattle up-zones tomorrow, it would probably take 5 to 10 years for PSRC to ultimately update their projections to reflect this given their current process. The PSRC process is very, very slow (finalizing forecasts in a multi-year process before incorporating them in their long-range plan which is only a update every 2 or 3 years).

      PSRC management and board don’t appear eager to change their forecasting process. It’s mired in academic research on theoretical methods, and months of abstract discussions and review by local cities and counties. It’s been already said that Ballard and Capitol Hill are already approaching their horizon year densities and there is plenty of sites left to redevelop. This slow process probably won’t change unless forced to by PSRC Board members. By worrying about getting it “right”, we have forecasts that are painfully antiquated — and by their dated usefulness makes them embarrassingly stale..

      1. It’s worse than that.

        It makes our deference to PSRC numbers actively destructive to sound transit policy and planning, while confirming the PSRC board as out of touch with reality.

        We’ve all seen those charts from various DOTs — — that keep ignoring on-the-ground to predict ballooning road demand forever. Those models are correctly lambasted as works of zealotry.

        The PSRC’s Everett Doubling and Issaquoffice Park and Great Downtown Totem and New Fed Way “predictions” are just as zealously wrong and dangerous.

        They should be called out as dogmatic falsehoods, insistently, until no one can get away with invoking or basing policy around them.

    3. One of the city officials was quoted on KUOW’s news roundup this morning saying that “All neighborhoods will densify; none are exempt.” Time to move to Mercer Island.

  7. The population exodus from major cities in the US in the 1970’s through the 1990’s was due mainly to smaller family sizes. Now that average family sizes have stabilized (except where lots of growth in housing occurred in the 1970’s to 1990’s), major cities will only be declining because of economic decline.

    Since 2010, almost all major cities in the US are showing population increases faster than their suburbs. While Seattle and the region are all showing more growth than lots of other regions, the accelerated central city growth is a national trend.

    Let’s keep putting pressure on our elected leaders on the PSRC board to demand that the agency make revised land use projections as a result of this multi-year trend. I think it will take the board to force the issue, as PSRC seems to be moving at the speed of a streetcar on a congested street on this issue. Heck, there are parts of the PSRC forecasting process still based on surveys or trends before 2000 or 2005!

    1. The population exodus from major cities in the 70s was white flight from desegregation busing, subsidized mortgages and highways, lack of financing in urban areas (redlining) which is the opposite of subsidized mortgages, destroyed neighborhoods forcing people to move, and the preference to leave cities rather than pay for fixing its challenges (crime and neglect). That goes hand in hand with the disposable culture: just throw something away when something new comes along, rather than maintaining and repairing and improving it. The cities were literally thrown away, and now what goes around comes around, because some of the older suburbs and shopping malls that they went to are being thrown away themselves as the exurbs are built up. Did you notice that Mill Creek and Bothell are growing fastest in Snohomish? Ayayay! Why not Lynnwood, south Everett, and Everett?

      The population exodus in the 1980s and 1990s was different: it’s because companies followed the first wave of suburbanization, so the new jobs were in the suburbs. People had to live in the suburbs or reverse commute, and reverse commuting was harder then because transit was minimal or nonexistent and the express lanes only went the other direction. It wasn’t really an “exodus” then because Seattle’s population bottomed in the early 80s and started rising again. It was mostly more people moving to the area or being born (the second baby boom), and those people overwhelmingly choosing the suburbs. Partly because suburbs were now “the way most Americans live” rather than “an exciting new thing”, and because their jobs were in the suburbs.

      In the late 90s that started to slow and more people started returning to central cities, or choosing central cities when they moved to an area. Some of them convinced their companies to do the same or started companies in the city, and now cities are the new hotness while affluent suburbs are still really popular, and non-affluent suburbs are declining, and new exurbs like Mill Creek are attracting people that might have otherwise lived in the other two kinds of suburbs.

      1. Don’t forget the lead poisoning.

        There’s a pretty solid hypothesis that people fleeing the inner cities was, essentially, due to the high levels of lead poisoning in them, and the resulting crime and poor educational systems and so on. This effect has, of course, gone away since the removal of lead from gasoline.

        So we’re back to the development pattern we’ve seen since the start of the Industrial Era where cities are preferable because they have the wealth. (Affuluent suburbs have also always been popular, but they traditionally have streetcars.)

  8. How fast might cities in the region grow if recent trends are sustained? If the growth rates of the last four years were sustained over the next 25, Seattle would grow 76%, Bellevue 47%, Tacoma 23%, and Everett 23%. Other large cities in King County would also grow strongly (Renton +50%, Kirkland +45%, and Kent +40%). The pace of growth in Seattle, and some others, will surely bump up against development capacity. Neither Seattle nor many Eastside cities have planned for such growth rates to be sustained, so zoning limitations will constrain many cities if growth doesn’t slow organically. But current trends should prompt a rethink of regional projections.

    I think it is highly unlikely that the region will continue to grow that quickly. But I wouldn’t worry about zoning limitations restricting Seattle’s growth more than any other area. Seattle has very limited zoning, which has pushed the cost of rent up very high, yet it still continues to grow. Seattle could accommodate a huge increase with relatively minor changes to the zoning laws. I don’t think this would be unpopular either. It would be challenging to be sure, but not impossible. With these changes, Seattle is way more likely to grow faster, simply because it is more popular. If the main advantage of your place is that you are cheaper, you really can’t expect to become extremely popular. A few years ago, the Blackberry company could say “our phones aren’t as good as an iPhone, but we are cheaper”. This didn’t work out that well for them, because Apple could always lower their price. The same is true for Seattle (by changing their zoning laws).

    1. Yeah I really think that if the pace stays this high for a few years the zoning will be dramatically changed. At some point, you have to realize that the city is really growing and that additional preparations are needed.

    2. But won’t that mean that anyone not making at least six figures won’t be able to afford rents in Seattle?

      1. Yeah, what Mike said. Absent any changes, you are absolutely right — rents will sky rocket. But if the city makes some changes, then lots more people come here, and it is also more affordable.

      2. Why are people so obsessed with making Seattle “affordable”? It can’t be done. The more desirable the place gets, the more companies it will attract. The more companies it will attract, the higher average wages will rise. The higher average wages rise, the more attractive the place will become.

        People in New York expect to pay at least $35 for a haircut, and $20 for lunch unless they choose hot dogs.

        The secret is out: it doesn’t rain all the time. The mountains are an hour from anywhere except Alki Point, the beach ditto, and at least in summer, the beach isn’t cold and shivery any longer. You can now grow tomatoes reliably, even Beefsteak.

        There are literally millions of people who want the lifestyle of the Pacific Northwest, in particular Puget Sound’s. Regardless of John’s fantasies, they DO. NOT. WANT. TO. LIVE. IN. PASCO.

      3. People want to ensure that seattle stays affordable because they care about outcomes for our non-rich members of society. If working class people can’t live in the city, we have failed to plan well.

        Manhattan has stopped being a city and started being a capital storage locker. That’s not a good thing.

      4. ‘Why are people so obsessed with making Seattle “affordable”?’

        Because south King County and Pierce County are hard to live in without a car, and it’s unconscionable to force working-class and poor people into car-dependent areas that were never intended for that and would not have been built that way if they were. The entire layout of the suburbs is predicated on the assumption that everybody has a car and can easily afford it, and pedestrian/transit access was not necessary any more. That’s fine as an alternative lifestyle for the well-off, but it’s not OK to dump everybody into it especially those who can’t afford any other choice. That’s the opposite of what those neighborhoods were designed for or can accommodate. You don’t see Canada or Europe dumping working-class people into low-density suburbs with cul-de-sacs and skeletal transit and no way to walk to the store or library or train station.

      5. Continuing. Paris’ banlieus are highrises where you can walk to a store and a Metro station. Moscow’s and St Petersburg’s default residential housing is similar. Vancouver has more frequent buses and night owls, even in the suburbs, so you can get from west Vancouver to the eastern suburbs for night shifts even if it’s a long three-seat ride. None of them have cul-de-sacs that I’ve seen, although outer Vancouver may have them somewhere, but is that where the poor live, or is it where people who could afford to live elsewhere choose to live for the larger house and isolation?

        There are two solutions. Either create housing in the city to meet demand and accommodate the full variety of income levels, or do a massive improvement in the suburbs to create many more walkable areas that can better support frequent transit in all directions. The planned urban villages in Kent and Tukwila are a good start, but they need to be much larger and more of them. Access to the existing workplaces needs to be better, and the workplaces themselves need to evolve into something more walkable (e.g., the Kent industrial district). That could involve infilling the vast open space around the warehouses.

      6. John, Mike,

        I do not disagree with the desire to maintain affordability. However, I am certain that the demographics of the City proper cannot support it. There is nowhere in the city that can be called “low income” now except tiny South Park and Georgetown. Even the valley along Delridge has been “discovered”.

        In the absence of major taxpayer supported low income development, low-paid service workers will increasingly be forced out of the central city. Some may still choose to work for higher tips available within it, taking transit from the suburbs to their places of employment. But developers of for-profit housing will always be able to outbid the public for available land, and SFH homeowners are their natural allies in any contest. If a given parcel is going to be developed!!!, homeowners will strongly prefer that the highest-end building possible be erected. They won’t want “those people” who would live in a low-income or inexpensive for profit building around. Look at the tizzy over “Apodments”.

        District elections will only make the anti-development bias of the City Council more severe. As long as the “renters” are squeezed into three districts — as they are, at least for now — the SFH folks will dominate the Council.

    3. One fortunate thing about Seattle is it’s twice as large as San Francisco while its population is a little less. (But rapidly growing: it regained 500,000 in the 1990s, then reached 620,000 last decade, and is now 670,000, so there’s not far to go to 850,000.) That’s the basis for RossB’s statement. A minor zoning change or ADUs could accommodate 850,000 without changing the city dramatically. The buildable land is 51% single family, so decreasing that even 5% or 10% would allow tons of more housing while still keeping over 40%+ single-family, or available for future waves of growth.

      1. Mike,

        You haven’t spent much time in San Francisco. There are literally only a few dozen blocks within the city which have “separated” houses. Everywhere else has lot-line to lot-line narrow single-family two story houses or two-, three- and occasionally four-story narrow “flats”. Seattle, with its relatively large lawns will never reach the density of San Francisco. It just won’t happen.

    4. Those people making less than six figures can’t afford the houses that are blocking development either. A single condo or apartment costs less than the house, even if the entire condo building costs more than it.

  9. The WA State Office of Financial Management has its own 2015 population estimates which were released last evening (obviously trying to scoop me :) ).

    Their methodology is different because their historical data doesn’t tie to the Census numbers for preceding years (Census has only published estimates through 2014).

    OFM confirms the trends in the article held into 2015.

    OFM believes Seattle grew 3.4% through April 2015, which is a notable acceleration of growth if true. Easily enough to put Seattle back on the top of the national growth rankings.

    On the Eastside, they think Bellevue took a pause last year at 0.4%. But their recent historical numbers are even more aggressive than the Census, suggesting Bellevue is even more dominant over a five-year window. Redmond added another 2.6%.

    Overall, they figure incorporated King was + 1.9% vs +0.4% for unincorporated King. So all good news.

    Snohomish continued its pattern of moderate growth in Everett (+0.9%) and even faster growth in the unincorporated areas (+3.1%).

    Tacoma was at + 0.7%, vs. +1.1% for all of Pierce County.

    1. I was wondering why the huge discrepancy from the census estimates, Seattle’s population estimates are like 20,000 different between the two. That’s insane.

  10. Alright, how many here have spent time in countries where zoning isn’t really enforced?

    In most Brazilian cities, people can mostly build whatever they want.

    However, in the places I have been there is maybe a 50% split between condos and single family homes. A city of 300,000 is so compact it would fit into downtown Tacoma, suburbs and all.

    People don’t want to spend an hour driving each way to get to work if they can afford it. Lack of zoning actually helps build dense cities in their circumstances.

    However, to do it you need to have condos at every income range. I’d live in a building too if I could find something that was affordable. Instead my choices are buy a house or spend twice that on a condo, or dump money into rent.

    In Brazil, rental apartments are rare. “Apartamento” is usually something you buy.

    If condos were available at a greater range of income brackets, people would probably be far more likely to buy into them rather than a house as it wouldn’t be the rental sinkhole apartment rental represents.

    1. If memory serves, condos have a more rigid quality code. So this basically means that are less likely to buy a condo that falls apart (only to try to chase down the builder, who has left town). This means that there is more incentive to build apartments. In this market this is certainly the case. Not only is Seattle booming, but it is booming with young people. Lots of these people want a comfortable life style (with a short commute) but they also want to pay down their student loans. So before they even think about a condo, they rent an apartment (besides, the next job may be in California or back east). All of this pushes up the cost of apartments.

      Of course, if more apartments and condos were allowed, then it wouldn’t be a problem. But they aren’t, so it is.

      1. I happen to know a young woman that went off to clever in Boston. She and her roommates got a condo there as it wound up being cheaper than what they could find for apartments.

        Sure, there are places where it makes no sense. However, it makes more sense for more people if they are available at a wider assortment of price ranges.

    2. When office parks were new in the 70s and 80s, every company wanted one. When the suburbs were new, everybody wanted to live in a cul-de-sac in a residential-only neighborhood where you had to drive to everything. Because the experts said things were better if every use had its own district. Hot just polluting industries and everything else, but housing here, supermarkets and retail there, office buildings there, theaters there, etc. There was something intrinsically good about separating all those and driving between them, or so the experts said. But after twenty years — or children growing up in that environment — people began to see the flaws in it. That didn’t cause everybody to hate the suburbs and office parks, but a lot of people do. So now people’s preferences are more half and half.

      A study I saw said a third of Americans want to live in walkable neighborhoods, a third want to live in low-density car-dependent suburbia, and a third are willing to go either way. But our housing stock is 20% urban, 80% low-density. So 13% can’t live where they really want to live (urban neighborhoods), and 33% who would be willing to live in urban neighborhoods can’t do it either. That’s why density restrictions are so harmful. It’s not everybody democratically choosing where they want to live. It’s the rich choosing where they want to live, and the majority putting up with whatever best they can get.

      What would happen if we eliminate zoning? We don’t know because it’s been a hundred years since then and society has changed a lot. But we know that some people live in single-family houses because they love living in the house, and others see it as an investment to cash in when they retire. The latter would make more money selling to a developer or building a multifamily structure themselves rather than selling to another single-family owner or building a McMansion. So if they want retirement money, that’s where the money is at. But zoning restrictions disallow this. At the most universal level, zoning was intended to “keep apartments out”, and that’s what it does. It wasn’t needed to keep polluting factories out because those can be restricted based on public health. Zoning and private covenants were to make the neighborhood exclusive, only for the best people. No working-class, no coloreds. Goats and chickens are bad because they’re useful for eating, but dogs and cats are OK because they have no practical use. Dogs and cats are like open space and long winding roads: conspicuous consumption, proof you have wealth, and that’s where zoning came from. Loosening zoning now endangers that status, and loses the “city-country” physical environment. People used to say “living in the country” for what we call “living in the suburbs”. We think of country as rural areas, but their acre- or quarter-acre lot was their piece of “country”.

      But while zoning gurantees that your neighbors will be as rich as yourself even if they sell to somebody else, it’s not the best way to make your assets multiply. The best way to make your assets multiply is to build a multifamily structure. Each unit costs less than the house, but all the units together cost more than it, and that’s money in the bank, and you can even live in one of the units if you wish.

      So the incentive is more density, and zoning is holding it back, because that’s zoning’s purpose and it’s succeeding well. What if we eliminate zoning? Some 40-story buildings will appear, more 10-story, even more 4-story, many duplexes and row houses, and a bunch of ADUs. Because taller buildings will still be more expensive to build and maintain because of the need to make the building strong enough to stay up, and mom-n-pop owners will say, “A 40-story building is too expensive. We can only afford to build a duplex or a 4-8 unit apartment, and we don’t want a neighborhood denser than that.” So that’s what would be built, and it would meet the demand for housing.

      Where would more density be built if people could build anything? Where people want to live, which means Seattle and the central Eastside. Not Lynnwood or Everett or Kent, unless I’m underestimating them or people’s desires change. A little bit in those areas probably.

      Will Surrey Downs be safe? That depends on what each Surrey Downs homeowner wants to do. How much do you trust your neighbors? Your current neighbors are as rich as you because of zoning, and that supposedly means they’re well-bred and wise (meaning committed to low-density 100%), so is zoning the only thing keeping them in line? The most likely scenario is some lots densifying but not all of them. `A better station area around the Link station with more people living there. Those who don’t like it moving to the far end of the neighborhood, and those who don’t care that much being happy to sell to them.

      1. “Dogs and cats are like open space and long winding roads: conspicuous consumption”

        Not to slight pet lovers; there are other reasons to have an animal companion. Interacting with nature’s other species makes us more human and rooted in nature, which is good for health. But the fact remains that zoning laws and private covenants allow precisely those species that have little economic value in our culture, and disallow those that have working/survival value.

      2. “A study I saw said a third of Americans want to live in walkable neighborhoods, a third want to live in low-density car-dependent suburbia, and a third are willing to go either way. ”

        That study isn’t correct. I’ve read multiple surveys that indicate that somewhere between 10% and 20% of Americans want to live in *genuinely rural* areas (farms, horses, chickens, goats). They don’t do so because there aren’t enough decently paying agricultural jobs.

        I’m wondering which category this group of people fell into in the study *you* read. I bet they were thrown into the “low density car dependent suburbs” group because that’s the closest they can get to the rural farms they actually want to live on. They don’t really want to live in a car-dependent suburb though. They want to live RURAL.

      3. FWIW, your comments about allowing dogs and cats while prohibiting goats and chickens is linked precisely to the distinction between people who want to live in car-dependent suburbs (dogs and cats) and those who want to live RURAL (who actually want goats and chickens). I know a fair number of the latter.

      4. @Nathanael:

        They don’t really want to live in a car-dependent suburb though. They want to live RURAL. […] the distinction between people who want to live in car-dependent suburbs (dogs and cats) and those who want to live RURAL (who actually want goats and chickens). I know a fair number of the latter.

        So, uh, not to put too fine a point on it, but what’s stopping them? Rural has always, by definition, been far away from “the big city.” I have coworkers back in Texas who drive 90 minutes one way to work because that’s where the 200 acre spread is located. Saying “there are no jobs there because it’s rural” is circular reasoning. Living in places comes with a cost. Living in the suburbs comes with a distance cost for getting to a job in the city. Living in the city itself comes with a monetary cost (or a “land cost” because you give up a 7,500sqft lot and go to a 3,000sqft lot if you have an SFH). Living in a rural area comes with both since land is a popular thing to own and it’s only available in large chunks far away from things. I own a handful of acres in rural west Texas and going out there means I lose cell phone reception, Internet access, and domestic sewer, but it sure is quiet.

        (Not to derail too hard, but Seattle specifically permits a certain number of chicken and goats in any residential zone on lots of any size.)

      5. What Nathanael said is stopping them is jobs. That is a pretty simple trade-off, really. Like you said, this happens all the time. Seattle would probably have *more* growth, if not for the high cost of living. Meanwhile, the suburbs would probably be growing more if there were more jobs there. But all of that is different than where people want to live. Think of it as the Green Acres phenomenon. Some want to live in the city — even when they don’t have a job (I’m thinking of you, Eva Gabor). Some want to live on the farm, even when they don’t have skills (like you, Eddie Albert). Some prefer the suburbs — big house, big lot and convenient enough to a big city. But reality always sets in — you can’t always afford to live where you want. You might prefer the suburbs, but hate the commute. Or maybe you like the city, but can’t afford it (e. g. inner Paris for most residents). Meanwhile, there are simply very few rural jobs out there. You could maybe scrape together a living as an organic farmer, but there is only so much land out there, and you better know what you are doing.

        Of course, as in all cases, folks prefer certain things in the abstract. You might prefer the suburbs, but not if the traffic is terrible. Or maybe the city is your thing, but not if crime is rampant. It is the latter, and the attitude about the latter, that has probably changed the most over the years. You can see this clearly in the T. V. shows reflecting (or influencing) American attitudes. Shows like Honeymooners and I Love Lucy were set in the big city. A few years later, it was hard to find any comedy set in the city. There were cop shows (e. g. streets of San Fransisco) and a bit later the great Normal Lear comedies. But they presented the city as something you largely endured, not enjoyed. Even the Jefferson’s sounded good only when you had loads of money and could afford a “deluxe apartment in the sky”. The Cosby Show portrayed a different picture of the city, of course, but again, it suggested that life is fine there if you are a doctor and your wife is a lawyer. The shows that most influenced (or reflected) the change in attitude were Friends and Seinfeld. Both of these shows showed fairly ordinary people without huge amounts of money enjoying the city. I’m sure Friends influenced a generation of young people in the suburbs to at least check out all the pretty people hanging out in the coffee shops in the city (instead of the mall).

        This trend has only accelerated. I’m sure if you took that poll again, the people who would prefer the city is very high. My guess is it trends really high for young people as well. Many have said that this will go away as they get older, but I’m not so sure. They may move out to the suburbs (because they can’t afford to live in the city) but that doesn’t mean they will prefer it. I really don’t see why they would. It is only cost, and the added cost of having a bigger family (or more stuff) that will drive those people to the suburbs. This is very different than the post war period. The move to the suburbs then was driven by the idea of the good life (big house, big lawn, big car). Now a lot of younger people don’t want a car or a lawn or if they do, they want the car only occasionally, and a very small lawn. All of this suggests continued growth in the city. There will be people (those that can afford it) who move to a rural area (many when they retire) in places like Montana. But as the city adapts, and adds more places for people to live, it will handle more people. Change the laws and allow a lot more new homes, and the city will grow like crazy. Do the same in most of the suburbs and it won’t matter (it is already cheaper there). The suburbs could add more office parks, but it is obvious that this trend has reversed itself as well — in large part because the workers don’t want to work there. The biggest thing slowing down really high growth in the city is very easy to manage, while the things slowing down growth in the suburbs and rural areas aren’t. Because the city is increasingly more popular, this suggests that the move to the city will continue, and continue at a very high rate.

  11. I think Dan has done an excellent job of explaining numbers that can be very misleading. First of all, percentage growth by city can lead to some crazy conclusions. For example, let’s say that Podunk, NY (population 100) just added ten new citizens. At the same time, New York City just added 8,000. So Podunk is growing at a whopping 10% (!) while New York is growing at, well, a rounding error (0.1%). But New York added 80 times the number of people! It is really hard to say that Podunk is growing like crazy, but New York is unchanged.

    On the other hand, if you start looking at cities, then you run across a different problem. What I like to call the Anchorage effect. City borders are somewhat arbitrary (although the laws aren’t) and some cities (like Anchorage) draw them bigger than others. So if you go by absolute numbers, then maybe a city like San Fransisco (which has a fairly tiny land mass) has more impressive growth than a city like Anchorage.

    So something like growth per acre would actually be a more revealing number. In some cities, this is most revealing. In Detroit, for example, I think you would find that not only is Detroit fairly flat in terms of growth, and the suburbs are growing, but that adjusted per land mass, there is still a huge suburban exodus. I’m sure the same thing happened in lots of cities. I would imagine at one point, a suburban area the size of Seattle grew quite a bit faster than Seattle (in people per area). But I don’t see that now. For example, compare Sammamish (the second city on the list) with Seattle:

    Sammamish has a population of around 50,000 and a land mass of around 18 square miles. It grew by 2.2 percent, or 1100 people. So, those 1100 people divided by 18 leads to 61 people added per square mile.

    Seattle, meanwhile, has a population of around 600,000 and a land mass of 83 square miles. It grew by about the same amount (2.3 percent). That means about 14,000 people were added. Divide that by 83 leads to 168 people per square mile.

    So basically, even though Sammamish seems to be growing almost as quickly as Seattle, it is not. Seattle is growing almost three times as fast. If I’m racing Usain Bolt, and I got out of the blocks pretty slowly, just because I’ve hit my stride doesn’t mean that I’m catching up to him. The same is true of Sammamish, and probably most of those areas on the list. Most of them are tiny compared to Seattle in terms of overall population (per square mile) and thus way, way behind (as I would be against Mr. Bolt). The fact that Seattle leads in this metric — a metric that favors less densely populated areas — just shows how urbanized we are becoming.

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