The last few years have seen explosive growth in Seattle proper, the fastest growth since the early days of the last century. But how long can the boom last? By the available data it doesn’t look like it is going to slow any time soon. From a Seattle Time’s article on the construction industry:

Still, he said, indications favor continued growth for the [construction] industry, with overall permits for the Seattle market up 53 percent through April compared with the first four months of 2014.

Permits for multifamily construction rose 104 percent, he said, with 6,700 units permitted compared with 3,313 permitted [in the first four months of] last year.

And the job growth in the area that is pushing population growth doesn’t appear to be slowing:

Updated Seattle Skyscraper Project Infographic by Nathaniel Williams

Another data point is Nathaniel William’s Skyscraper Infographic. I posted it last fall. It’s useful not only to note how many more projects are in the pipeline compared to just nine months ago (45 v 37), but how many projects that were proposed then have already moved to construction, a full 1/3rd (9 out of 27).

Now some people would rather keep their head in the sand and hope this will all go away. That the idyllic Seattle of [insert time they grew up/when they moved here] will return. They hope that the whole knowledge economy/STEM business* is a just a phase, that maybe housing prices in the Silicon Valley will crash slowing the exodus of residents to our region, not just companies from that area. But is it really likely? Or is it more likely that we are a pretty awesome part of the country with a strong economy and high quality of life, and people can see that and will continue to want to move here? Will we continue to see strong growth rates, mostly concentrated in our urban areas? The latter is far more likely, but regardless we should at least be planning for that eventually. Our transportation and housing plans need to be bold and forward looking, not timid and dependent on a growth slow down that isn’t likely to come any time soon.

*sidenote, but have we moved ‘post-Tech Industry’? Is Amazon a tech company or is it a retail/business services/multimedia conglomerate? Is Expedia a tech company or is it the largest travel agency in the world?

79 Replies to “What if Seattle’s Population Boom Isn’t Just a Fad? Are We Ready?”

    1. At-grade rail on Elliott/15th, a la MLK, makes perfect sense. The alternative is to blow the entire west ST subarea budget on excessive tunneling. At-grade will allow more frequent stations and reasonable transit speed and reliability. ST’s BART-type model is just not suitable for an in-city route like this, even if eventually extended to the north or east New subways with the station spacing that is needed in Seattle are simply too expensive. As long as the line includes a new Ship Canal crossing, surface will be far more beneficial than a limited stop subway.

  1. It’s not discussed much, but population growth brings a different reality to the politics of transit. That’s because people from elsewhere move to Seattle. Many of those recent arriving people have grown up or attended college in places with a matured rail transit system; they will increasingly judge rail expansion efforts here from an operational perspective rather than a more myopic or theoretical one. Others move from areas that are not favorable to transit, and will as first-time users quickly identify some of the difficulties of using our transit that locals accept (such as where are the down escalators to the DSTT platforms after having down escalators to the mezzanine level, or why is signage so bad in places?)

    Meanwhile, the political establishment in Seattle has mostly been here for decades and many are lifelong Washington natives. Decision logic of ST1 or other prior rail transit votes is less and less relevant as the share of the population that actually voted in them dwindles. A good example of the shift is shown in the recent choice to switch to district elections in Seattle after several no votes, There will continue to emerge a different culture of what a growing, progressive city is — and it won’t exactly align with the prior power structure of our local politics and issues unless our leaders adapt to it.

    1. That’s a stretch. Sound Transit votes are held over the entire ST taxing district, not just Seattle. ST1’s light rail (1996) was Northgate to SeaTac, which is probably anybody’s idea of a first trunk line. ST2 (2008) added lines east to Redmond, and extensions north and south of the original trunk. During that period Seattle’s population increased from 583,000 to 603,000, an increase of 3.4%. In 2013 it was 652,000, a further increase of 8.1%. If we use King County as a proxy for the ST taxing district, the corresponding increases are 13.7% and 8.5%. Seattle growth has outpaced county growth in the most recent years, but at best it is only catching up to previously much higher county growth.
      Much as I want to see more subways in Seattle, the rest of the ST district has to be accounted for.

      1. chris, I agree with you that King County is growing faster than Seattle. The thrust of my post is more that growth means the people moving into either Seattle or King County from other areas of the US and other countries, and this ultimately changes the political dynamics of Seattle. Keep in mind that a proportion of Seattle-born people also migrate out of Seattle and King County to other areas of the US and the world.

        For example (from the Census estimates program), it appears that King County (I know it’s not the same as the ST district but a good example) had about 1.6M residents in 1996, and will probably top 2.1M residents when the 2015 data is released in Spring 2016. That’s about 25% of the population that were not here for ST1. Another 21% are under 18 and were not alive to even hear about the ST1 debates. Given death rates and out-migration effects on the population composition, it’s probably more like 55-60% of the residents that were not here for ST1 (even as children). Even with ST2, I would speculate around 20-25% of the residents weren’t here for that in 2008 (7 years ago as opposed to 19 years ago).

        My simple point: Growth means more than more people. It means a significantly different electorate that bring different perspectives on transit.

  2. The sheer suburban sprawl seen along places like Hood Canal and Bremerton tell me that the answer is no.

    But, I think in ways Sesttle is more prepared than Portland.

  3. “Are we ready?”

    The answer is clearly no. The fact that Ballard is currently at 196% of their “target” growth for 2024 (or 397% of their target if you factor in permits already issued) doesn’t mean they’re growing too fast. It means the PSRC is kind of terrible at predicting the future.

    We need more schools, big upzones, and more subways. Now.

    1. Oops. That data’s a year old. Ballard is now at 285% the PSRC target for 2024 (407% with permits included). Pike/Pine is at 338% (577% with permits). Interesting stuff, if comparing growth to some strange targets is your thing.

      1. Interesting to see how anemic the growth in Northgate has been, despite the high growth target, and how little (only 2/3) of the growth SLU has reached compared to target. That means that there is probably still a lot more to come, and neighborhoods that are over target are likely to get quite a lot more over target than they already are.

      2. The PSRC definitely failed to predict the current boom, with Ballard being the most headline getting example, but the numbers deserve some context. This was just the second update of GMA targets and were listed as minimum numbers of jobs/residents that areas had to be able to accommodate. Having more than 100%, in that context, doesn’t necessarily indicate a failure of planning.

        That said, they definitely goofed. That said, who predicted big surges in hiring for the 787, for Amazon, etc. back then? The iPhone was still a few years out, Iraq was pretty vividly unraveling (the battle of Abu Ghraib, the bridge stampede, the new constitution, etc.). The current boom wasn’t really on the horizon in a substantive way that would have justified wildly inflating targets. Cap Hill was also only ‘supposed’ to see a fraction of its growth, but planning has adapted and responded to these trends.

  4. The hate for densifying SF neighborhoods baffles me. 23rd and Union is getting hundreds of new units and the city zoned it so only a few blocks of Union and 23rd have density, with up to one ‘wrap around’ multifamily building (the density stays on parcels fronting or one parcel away from the arterials). This is going to be great for the neighborhood, will be supported by good transit (especially once new trolleys come on line and the Madison BRT gets built).

    Vancouver is great example of how having several units in a SF structure can make neighborhoods great. What is it about Seattleites that make them convinced that they’re better off without the $1200/mo in extra income renting the basement would bring and that renters are inherently bad neighbors? Baffled, I say.

    1. People hate change, especially when it involves the biggest asset they own. A lot of these folks will probably never be convinced no matter what we tell them.

    2. I’ll keep saying this – basements and cottages are going to be a drop in the bucket compared to the overall housing needs in the city, even if you eliminated all of the restrictions tomorrow. They are expensive to build, require ongoing management, and don’t generate that much income. If your personal income is more than ~$47,000/year (the vast majority of SFH owners in Seattle would exceed that), you’ll also owe 25% of profits to Uncle Sam.

      The real housing volume is going to come from large multi-family developers, simply because they can build 100s of units at once.

      1. The process of piecemeal conversions of existing structures to meet evolving uses and needs, including subdivisions that created accessory dwellings and multiplexes out of previously single-family homes, has successfully scaled to provide the plurality form of housing stock in cities all over the globe.

        To the point where a large percentage of the statistical density advantage enjoyed by other cities over Seattle, in low-rise neighborhoods from Boston to Vancouver, can be chalked up to such conversions, subdivisions, and accessories alone. And to the point where those forms become thoroughly unremarkable.

        Seattle: a zoning intransigent, perhaps, but not a snowflake.

      2. Alex, it’s true that conversion and creation of new accessory housing units can be expensive in some cases, but it can also be almost free in others. Regardless, Seattle needs to remove the current parking and ownership restrictions as soon as possible, and then work to relax the current lot coverage, height, and setback limitations to allow newly built D/ADUs to be larger (hopefully to the point that they can accommodate parents with kids in some cases). As d.p. said, Vancouver has done a great job of this. Walk around Kits, for example, and many of the neighborhoods don’t appear much denser than Seattle, but they’re often about twice as dense, and that’s because it is, in fact, quite easy and economical for people to create rental space within both existing and new structures.

      3. @Alex,

        You are correct. The area where the city can make the biggest gains in overall housing stock is in the mutli-family zoned areas. You can play around with small changes to the SFH zoned areas and have virtually no impact on overall housing stock compared to what you get with modest development on multi-family zoned sites.

        People look at a zoning map of Seattle and say, “OMG, all that SF zoning is really holding housing stocks back!” But it is a false assertion, much again to looking at a map of the US after a presidential election and saying, “Wow. The red states really killed the blue states!” Well, no the nation usually elects a Dem despite a map that looks solid red. You always need to look at the details.

        And as long as the city allows big box store development with giant housing destroying parking lots, then the city really isn’t serious about increased housing supply.

      4. @Jason,

        Actually, no, the city does not have to do anything like what you suggest. And, in fact, the city is highly unlikely too ever do what you suggest. Witness the recent demise of the HALA recommendations after just a few days if you have any doubt.

        Seattle is a city of neighborhoods. It will continue to be.

      5. The single-family land is about six times the size of the multi-family land.

        Adding two ADUs to every single-family block increases density just as much as adding a dozen apartments to every multi-family block. It’s true that you can accomplish more per block in the multi-family zones, but the sheer size of the single-family zones means that relatively unobtrusive changes can make a big difference.

      6. However, you can get many hundreds of apartments in MF blocks, not just 12. The comparison is valid, but the potential maximum is substantially different. Even if every home added an ADU, that is only a maximum of ~30 ADUs per block.

        Even with restrictive height limits, my MF-zoned block could have 400-500 apartments easily. If height limits were set to 200′ instead of 65′ it could be 1000+ units. The great part about that kind of density is that it supports frequent transit service, nearby grocery stores, and everything that makes a neighborhood walkable. 2x density SFH neighborhoods can’t do that.

        If we say a fully built-out MF block has 600 residents (400 units * 1.5 residents/unit) and a fully built-out SFH+ADU block has 120 residents (30 homes * 2.5 residents + 30 ADUs * 1.5 residents) that’s still a 5x difference in density, which becomes 10x or greater if you allow reasonable height limits. That’s also ignoring the fact that fully built-out MF blocks are much more likely to actually happen than scenarios where every SFH owner adds an ADU.

        Again, ADUs are not a problem – they can help, but they are not remotely close to the silver bullet.

      7. Lazarus, you’re completely wrong about what’s going to happen to D/ADU regulations within the next year or two, as well as HALA in general. Also, how would making it easier to build D/ADUs cause Seattle to no longer be “a city of neighborhoods?” These structures are already allowed — we just have archaic regulations in place that make them difficult to actually permit. And by the way, even Bradburd, more or less the figurehead of the NIMBY crowd, is in favor of making most of these changes. I’ve exchanged emails, and actually conversed with, many of the candidates and current councilmembers, and I actually can’t think of anyone who is against most of these changes. Please correct me if I’m wrong, and let me know which of our current or likely councilmembers are against these changes (HINT: The correct answer is none of them). The parking requirement is absolutely going away, and that’s really the most crucial change. The setback and lot coverage requirements are almost certain to change as well, because they must as a practical matter. The ownership requirement is going to be a little more controversial, but I’m optimistic. Height will be controversial as well, but the current regulations in that regard actually aren’t too limiting, so that’s not cause for much concern.

        Regarding the “demise” of the HALA recs, what are you basing that on? Literally all of the NIMBY candidates lost in a big way. The only two wildcards that stand a chance in the general are Herbold and Grant, and they’re just confused about the interplay of density, development, and affordability. But neither of them has come out against of the recommendations, and they both support D/ADU liberalization. According to Murray’s well publicized statement days before the primary he only said that he was no longer going to pursue the ONE recommendation that would allow a greater diversity of structures in SF zones. But Murray has, in fact, repudiated that statement in recent days, and it looks like literally all of the HALA recs are still on the table.

        And for what it’s worth, the council has actually been working on this issue for quite awhile. It was always going to happen — they’ve just been moving slowly (as usual), and I suspect that it was tabled indefinitely as a standalone item once the HALA committee was formed.

      8. Alex, I completely agree that D/ADU liberalization isn’t a silver bullet, and I certainly hope it’s not all we get from the post-HALA council. (I’d love to see a broad range of upzones throughout the city.) But I do think it’s an important change that will help make all of our SF zones a little denser and a little more vibrant and inclusive.

      9. A couple of days ago I was wondering through southeast Portland, and happened to notice a fairly large early era arts and crafts home. As a larger one of these, and with the type of architecture in use on it, I would say it was probably borderline Victorian era.

        There were 8 mailboxes at the front door.

        The issue not only is the conversion of a single family home into housing for 8 separate family units (single people, couples without children, or otherwise smaller than the Jetsons Nuclear Family model), but it preserves intact one of those houses that so many activist groups want to see preserved.

        During the course of that walk, which really wasn’t all that far, there were areas where probably somewhere around half or more of the older houses had been converted this way.

        This is, by the way, in a city that requires some pretty annoying paperwork if you are even just renting a room to a friend. Here, if you have a rental income of some sort inside the city of Portland, you must pay business license fees just as if you are incorporated as a business. As I am not involved in that type of real estate, I have no idea how common that is. It seems to me that this would get quite complicated and may be a deciding factor for some.

        Yet, enough of them have made the decision to rent out part of their property that it seems reasonably commonplace in parts of inner southeast to see at least two front doors on a number of former “single family” houses.

      10. @Jason,

        You are dead wrong about the outcome of the election. Four out of the 5 council members running for re-election made it through the primary with comfortable majorities, and the only one who lost was a weak candidate who almost lost the last time she ran.

        Who are these incumbents who are skating to re-election? They are the same incumbents who just a few months ago bent over backwards for SFH owners and limited Low Rize zoning adjacent to SFZ because it was “infringing” on SFH owners and didn’t look nice enough. A sea change in Seattle politics? NOT!!! It’s called the status quo and district elections is giving it to us in droves.

        Regarding ADU’s, you are being feed a line of crap. ADU’s already exist and a candidate can claim to be for them while still appeasing SFH owners with promises of maintaining the status quo. Don’t be fooled.

        But please note that most SFH owners and their respective candidates are pro growth and pro density. They just want it done wisely and effectively, and with transit. How that happens is where the debate occurs, not if it will happen.

      11. Alex, accessory dwelling units aren’t a drop in the bucket and could be a silver bullet. They won’t be because everyone who can won’t build an accessory unit but check it out:

        At 1.5 person/unit, ADUs could house 162,000 people, 13% of Seattle’s projected growth over 20 years.

        4/5 ADUs in Portland were built with green features above code such as solar/PV, uprated glass or insulation, water systems, etc.

        Non ADU residents own cars at 160% the rate ADU dwellers do

        ADUs have about 470 sq ft per person and new SF homes have about 800.

        There is immense capacity for this type of dwelling in Seattle (108,000+ parcels meet the requirements) and obviously most people won’t build them, but even if one out of five do the reduced pressures on MF zones and housing prices would be enormous! There are 13,000 recently built and permitted units in SLU. 1/5 SF parcels building ADUs would house over 30,000 people. They could make a big difference, but the off street parking and owner-occupancy covenant are destroying the viability of the housing type here.

      12. d.p.: Basement apartments and cottages do scale *if* you allow a landlord to rent out both the ‘main building’ and the ‘cottage’. Seattle, for some reason, does not.

      13. @Bill,

        That is exactly my point. You can get a lot more than 162,000 new residents inside the city limits just by focusing on what is already zoned multi-family. The urban village concept has been a huge success despite the fact that the city really didn’t do much to make it happen. Just look at Ballard and how it has already blown through its growth targets if you need proof.

      14. As explained to you myriad times already, to “blow through” growth targets significantly more than has already happened would require clearcutting essentially every preexising lot in the Growth Quarantine areas. Including functional mixed-use buildings of historic value and/or affordable stock that is not replicable in new construction.

        In addition to yielding locally poor, monocultural urbanism, this would further entrench the fear of change in other parts of the city, who already associate “New Ballard” with all that is ugly, poorly scaled, and unaffordable.

        But perhaps even more crucially, the drastic dichotomy you desire to set up between island “nodes” and the suburban sprawl that would continue to physically dwarf them is simply bad aggregate urbanism. It limits living situations to houses for wealthy families and apartments for young renters, with no intermediate options except to flee to the suburbs. It ensures mis-weighted transit demand and the continued sub-optimal distribution of anywhere-to-anywhere intra-urban transit mobility. And it disallows the organic shifts in neighborhood cultural and generational make-up that keep great cities dynamic in defiance of the planners’ easels.

        Only the most suburban-minded, and those who have drunk the ST/PSRC kool-aid development logic (that has already so dramatically failed in the Bay Area) would think doubling down on Growth Quarantines is the best path to a healthy, vibrant future Seattle.


  5. All good. Seattle has plenty of room to grow and I’m glad to see it happening.

    And I doubt the desire of businesses to move into Seattle proper is over either. And don’t look now, but Expedia just let people have a peak at their build plan for the Amgen site and they are looking at going from the current 3000 people locally to 12,000.

      1. I doubt that Expedia would actually get to 3000+ parking spaces unless the workforce actually did expand to 12,000. That seems like a long way off.

    1. On the contrary, it’s my understanding that Expedia is planning to build about 1,800 additional parking spaces on site no matter what. That’s in addition to the 1,200 or so in the current parking structure. Hopefully the city will successfully push back against this, but for now that’s the plan.

      1. Yeah I read that article, it talks about Expedia increasing to 3300 spaces but then Expedia doing all kinds of incentives to have employees not drive there, which is a phenomenal contradiction.

      2. `Not if there’s 8,700 employees without parking spaces. That’s 72% of the employees without parking.

      3. @Jason,

        Do your math. Roughly speaking what you are saying is that there will be 3000 parking spaces for 12000 employees. Stated another way, it means 75% of,Expedia emps will not have a parking spot. That really is fantastic and exactly what we want in this city.

      4. Unless Seattle does something to shore up transit in that corridor, I hope Expedia tells Seattle to take a flying leap.

      5. Expedia already voted with its feet, based on Metro’s service level several months ago: pre Prop 1, not knowing whether Ballard-downtown Link would be chosen or approved, or whether the line would go through Interbay or further east. That shows it wants Seattle and Seattle’s transit level anyway. Expedia could contribute to extra peak runs on the D, like some other companies do. Or as Peggy Lee and Jessica Rabbit sang, “Why don’t you do right / like some other men do.”

      6. @Rapid Rider

        New Expedia employees will have plenty of choices for housing by the time the company moves. There are lots of new apartments going into Interbay and Ballard (both planned and under construction) and the ones who continue to live on the east side (mostly existing employees) will have access to buses to downtown that have full access to HOV lanes and likely boosted bus service along the RR D.

        Some folks will continue to drive, but I suspect a lot of the new employees will simply choose to live in the city limits.

  6. Do we know which neighborhoods they are moving to? Ballard, as expressed above, is still growing. What about Fremont and Wallingford (possible UW-Ballard stops) as opposed to Lower Queen Anne and Interbay (Ballard to downtown stops)? Can Belltown grow more to justify a light rail stop?

    How big will West Seattle become (enough to justify light rail on a cost benefit basis rather than a political basis)?

    1. Why do you think that Belltown needs to grow more to “justify” a light rail stop? It’s already incredibly dense and getting denser with many new construction projects. I believe I read somewhere it’s the densest neighborhood in the entire state.

    2. Agreed, Belltown certainly doesn’t need to grow more to justify a rail station. It will probably grow more anyway though.

      1. No objection to the comments, but SDOT does not think Belltown is worth a light rail stop.

      2. My guess is they just think it less worthy than SLU, not unworthy in any objective sense.

      3. I’m getting ready to create a militant action group to ensure Belltown isn’t left out of ST3 :]

      4. “SDOT does not think Belltown is worth a light rail stop.”

        It’s impossible for a straight line from north Seattle to serve both Belltown and SLU because they’re in a diamond shape, so is has to pick one or the other, and SLU is clearly larger and growing more. That doesn’t mean Belltown is unworthy of a station. It just means it got superceded by a sudden newcomer the way Hillary Clinton was with Obama.

  7. The city apparently expects 120,000 new residents by 2035. This is what is in the 2035 Comprehensive Plan anyway, but that could be way too conservative. Seattle gained nearly 100,000 residents just in the last decade (2004 population was about 571,000). We could gain 120,000 residents well before 2035 if current trends continue. It’s not unreasonable to expect it by 2025 rather than 2035. That’s how strong the demand for Seattle housing is. And I don’t think Seattle is ready for that.

    Implementing the HALA recommendations would be a start though.

  8. Seattle won’t be after kneecapping capacity of the DSTT to half it’s original design, but Lynnwood will certainly be with 4 car trains running every 4 minutes.
    Could Lynnwood be the next Bellevue with 15 minute service to the new regional airport?

  9. Amen. All the more reason to celebrate the dismal failure of the NIMBY’s in the primaries, and keep pressure up on the new council to fully enact HALA.

  10. We just need to re-energize our rainy weather propaganda machine. Remember people, whenever talking with an outsider, always end your conversation with a bit about how depressing the constant drizzle and overcast skies are. I’m a 4th generation Seattleite, and this trick used to work really well.

  11. Ask New York in 1970, New York in 2015, Detroit in 1930, Detroit in possible perpetuity, Athens for a millenium or two prior to the founding of modern Greece, or Ani in circa 1020 just how good people are at predicting the future economic fortunes of an individual city.

    With luck and relative macroeconomic stability, Seattle will steadily grow, though the pace may perhaps gradually taper off as our overly specialized regional economy rubs up against Peak Douchey Disruption Of Questionable Tangible Benefit.

    (And don’t think this won’t happen. The finance sector that defined the Reagan-Clinton boom years reached its employment peak a while ago; newly-minted corporate lawyers now work for half the salaries they did when law school was presumed a path to expansionist easy street. In fact, I cannot think of a less convincing case for any city’s bubble-bucking Exceptionalism than Matthew’s list of name-brand corporations occupying a single employment sector… except perhaps the case that growth expectations should be predicated on how “awesome” an individual thinks Seattle may be.)

    Do we need a broad-based zoning overhaul, and an Overton shift in the local perception of what consitutes healthy, shared civic space, in order to accommodate the coming growth? Absolutely. Do we need uniquitous urban and effective commuter transit to supplant the automotive dominance of the prior era from choking is in the present? Absolutely.

    But should we presume a Manhattanization of Holman Road and South Park and Northwest Issaquah Cloverleaf Junction and start planning for zillions of miles of automated subways to reach them, all while ignoring the necessary utility of existing buses because they don’t seem sexy enough for our Futurama boosterism? No. Absolutely not. That is not reality, not sanity, and not productive.

  12. How crazy is it that we’re permitting 22,000 new parking spaces in and around downtown considering the rush-hour traffic conditions we already have?

    1. Agreed its crazy to add parking capacity to a street and road system at capacity as is. Though I also have to say the problem with traffic congestion is really not new buildings or new people, anyone who uses a street or road occupies space, its just that SOVs carry 1 person in about 250 sq ft whereas a bus carries 85 or so people in about 500 sq ft.

      1. Right, it’s not new buildings or people but new cars. And every additional parking space that’s used by one office worker is one more car on the road during the morning and afternoon peak hours.

        We’re going to have to grow without adding more cars or else we’re all going to have a miserable time getting around. More parking downtown probably means more cars. I think we should cap the number of parking spaces.

  13. Are we ready? Hah! We’re 20 years behind on roads and trainsit right now. At this point, Seattle really needs to consider congestion tolling in the downtown core. We have to limit the amount of SOV’s that are allowed into the downtown core during working hours. Failure to do so will result in complete gridlock (Example Mercer Street) rendering our surface public transit inoperable. We do not have time to wait for grade separated transit. We need to limit SOV’s in the core now.

    1. Ha! You want to see gridlock on surface streets come to the DC Area. The traffic here is BAD.

      1. Can you imagine if DC just had the Blue line (line to National Airport)? That is sort of whay we have now

  14. “That the idyllic Seattle of [insert time they grew up/when they moved here] will return.”

    Funny, I know that’s how people think, and yet…I moved here in 1998 and I’m willing to say: It’s better now.

    1. At some point you kind of have to just chalk it up to the boundless nature of nostalgia.

      I moved here in ’94 and think Seattle is a much better city now than when I landed.

  15. Well my wife and I are leaving, and it’s because this city simply can’t get things done. Local leaders really should have looked ahead and built mass transit 40 years ago, before it was a big city. We’ll take ourselves to a boring city that at least has enough smarts to build transit before they become a big crowded city. There’s not really any convenient way to get around this city. Walk ability is a joke. There are no pedestrian zones and considering the density of downtown there’s very little services. Oh, and why does everything close so damn early here?

    1. Not local leaders, but you can blame the voters who voted down transit in 1968 and again in 1970. If that system was built, we’d likely have something like WMATA or BART by now.

      Seattle is rather boring if you’re coming from other big cities in the US, or major global cities internationally. That’s hardly a secret, though – Seattle’s always been “boring” by most definitions. I’m a native, but if my family didn’t live here, I’d probably live elsewhere. I can’t imagine myself choosing to move to Seattle to take a job, and certainly not from an “exciting” city. Expensive, isolated, and boring. Guilty as charged.

      1. I don’t think you can blame the voters who voted by 50.8% for the Forward Thrust subway system… only to have it “fail” due to idiotic supermajority requirements.

        Supermajority requirements for anything less drastic than constitutional amendments or impeachment should be eliminated.

  16. Ryan, I’ve long since come to the conclusion that the human psychological makeup world-wide has always carried the unshakeable belief that everything important died with the past.

    Gary Larson did a couple of great cartoons: A crew of cave-men carving up a dead mammoth, with one of their fathers yelling at them not to throw away the tail because “In my day, we used the WHOLE dang mammoth!”

    And Michelangelo ignoring his father’s tirade about youth too lazy to make their own brushes. Though truly, our former ability for swift screeching group travel through the trees long gone, two reasons we survived:

    One, leopards thought we tasted terrible, and two, the one survival threat we could swiftly escape from was our own past. But maybe leopard scratches from the ones that almost got us left congenital nostalgia in our bloodstream.

    But Wes, I keep mentioning the first New York subway for a reason. Public transit invariably happens not from foresight about future development, but from present development where nobody can walk down a street for the crowding, let alone drive.

    When you think about it, from points of view where it matters, the only sure way to keep from wasting the whole national treasure on massive permanently underused transitis to wait and see where the amount of people who need it really already are.

    After forty years here, I really think that their are two interconnected reasons our progress has been so slow. One is that our inheritance of ground level space for transit, especially the abandoned rail rights of way to which other cities owe all their progress, has been the stingiest on earth.

    And the other is that while we’ve got enough people to be getting in each other’s way, we’re only now reaching the level of the very large tax- and -political- pressure base to pay for the tunnels and bridges that transit here absolutely needs.

    Of course this place is populating. People do have children. But this is also a beautiful place with very mild winters. And easy ocean freighter and air travel to a burgeoning part of the world overseas.

    And also because for the first time in US history, a very large number of people have the money to move here. But based on personal experience t you might best put in with the cult of rich gullible suicide seekers signing up to go to Mars.

    As Ballard used to be its own city, wherever you move to might someday be the Old Town of Enormously Greater Seattle. First warning signal: any cross country highway trip reveals that roadside espresso stands where the young woman at the controls asks you if you want “ristretto” outnumber those that don’t.

    Red America and Blue America are yesterday’s idiot cliche. The rolling tide of Brown America with Crema will doubtless create the kind of lifestyle the places you want to go to are dying to have, to prevent their dying. “New York Alki!”, meaning next day to the local north coast Nation, wasn’t a curse.


    1. Yes I see your point, but 6-7 years to build a 3.5 mile extension with two stations is ridiculous. We need to pick up the pace. We also need to get real brt operating until we can get more light rail lines open. Rapid ride is a complete joke.

      1. Sounds like you’re a soldier in the war on cars.

        More seriously, Rapid Ride isn’t real BRT because there isn’t money or political will to give lane and signal priority.

  17. We are not ready – because the development will occur at least two decades before there’s a mass transit system to serve them. We have plenty of zoning capacity to accept development – that’s a red herring (3X the expected growth over then next 20 years according to DPD). What we don’t have is a transit system to serve the density coming our way, either for new downtown expansion into SLU or to serve the burgeoning density of Ballard. We have a 1960 bus system, only a lot slower. We are playing a fantasy game, pretending that mass transit exists, and pretending there are real business districts in all the so-called urban villages clustered around car-oriented arterials like Aurora Ave. We’ll get the density; there is no constraint on growth other than how much construction we can support. The question is whether we’ll have the infrastructure to support it and make it livable, and the answer is no.

    1. The idea that we have zoning capacity for 3X expected growth is the real red herring. As you allude to yourself, a lot of that zoning capacity is tied up in the wrong places. When new buildings go up along highways like 15th Ave NW and Aurora that’s not because these are great locations — they’re certainly not! It’s because that’s where there’s extra room left under the zoning.

      Of course, Aurora and 15th Ave NW are great streets to run buses on. The bus can have all its busly impacts — it can go fast, emit a lot of exhaust, and make a lot of noise — without really pissing anyone off, because these impacts are pebbles falling in a crater. And these roads get you within a little walk of a lot of places; though part of that walk is guaranteed to be a little unpleasant, the roads aren’t as destructive to local walking patterns as the freeways are. And even then we’ve managed to be more successful running all-day bus routes along freeways than most cities. But then we try to build on that success by planning trains to the exact same P&Rs the buses serve instead of to places where people actually want to be on foot. We’ve done pretty well in the last few decades at cobbling together regional transit using buses, taking advantage of the improving capabilities of buses; in the next few decades we’ll largely waste the advantages of trains.

      And a big part of throwing away the advantages of trains is limiting density near the non-highway-addled stations.

  18. “King County houses fell 3.6 percent in October from a year earlier, the Northwest Multiple Listing Service reported Tuesday.” –Seattle Times

  19. I would remind people that global warming works both ways:

    There are those that say the Pacific Northwest will get vast numbers of climate refugees.

    However, not too long ago I was on the phone with someone from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I made some comment about shoveling snow in the winter.

    He said “The winters really aren’t anywhere near that bad recently. I haven’t had to shovel snow for about 15 years.”

    That statement may very well doom their city to 20 feet of snow this coming winter, but at least one of the primary reasons I have been given for people to move to our region (ie, “I don’t have to shovel anywhere near as much snow!!”) is rapidly vanishing in the northeast.

    Also, we might see some larger scale artistic transformations. How many times have we seen depressed areas of cities get revitalized because they are cheap to live in, and so a whole new generation moves there? Maybe this could happen in a vastly larger scale in places like Detroit.

    1. Detroit absolutely will have a resurgence, without question. It’s already starting in some neighborhoods. If I had a few spare dollars to invest in real estate it would be in Detroit.

      1. “Babylon absolutely will have a resurgence, without question. It’s already starting in some quarters. If I had a few spare dollars to invest in real estate it would be in Babylon.”

        Sometimes, cities enjoy resurgences after periods of instability or lost economic influence. Sometimes, they plod along as shells of their former glory for decades or centuries. Sometimes, they just up and die.

        I have no doubt that some younger artists, and others who wish to “lay claim” to underutilized spaces, will play a role in shaping pieces of the next few decades of Detroit history. I have great doubts that their efforts can scale to counteract the tremendous loss of the city’s prior population of millions, which at one time earned wages sufficient to keep a wider economy humming and a city’s service provisions afloat. I wouldn’t go buying any abandoned downtown high-rises and counting my real-estate jackpot chickens.

        There are no guarantees, and predictions that aim to quantify the state of a city more than a few short years out are rarely worth the 0s and 1s they’re printed on.

      2. I haven’t been to Detroit but my understanding is the city is huge and it needs to shrink by half, so it’s like if south King County were part of Seattle and then that many people moved away. So Detroit will probably improve over the next 20-30 years and expand its successful neighborhoods, but regaining its former size and success sounds like way too much of a leap. So real estate just outside the successful neighborhoods or a bit beyond that has a reasonable chance of return, but that’s probably where everybody else is investing and bidding up the prices. The best deal is probably to buy a place if you want to live there for the next quarter century, so you can at least have cheap housing costs while you’re waiting for gentrification to come to you. Having an interest in gardening is an advantage, as some Detroiters have done great things wth urban gardens.

        If an employment boom something like the tech boom does come, you have to ask, why Detroit? Why not Cleveland and Cincinnati first, which also has plenty of underused housing and infrastructure but also has more stability and resources to support a company. Why not Chicago, where it’s even easier and you could more easily attract a workforce? It seems like the only companies that could contribute to the Detroit renaissance are those that want to be in Detroit for their own other reasons.

        It’s also worth looking at what caused Detroit’s problems, the vertically-integrated companies that left no economy when they declined, like Seattle’s 1970s Boeing Bust only much worse. How will the new Detroit keep its economy diverse enough and horizontally-distributed enough that it’s not vulnerable if a few companies decline?

      3. Detroit has obvious geographic-location advantages, at the south end of Lake St. Clair — the farthest you can get inland on the Great Lakes shipping route before the big detour around the Michigan peninsula — and the most southerly point for short tunnels or bridges from the Midwest to Toronto.

        The thing is, it was enormous in population and it remains enormous in land area. There’ll always be a city there — it’s a great location — but it may be a much smaller city. I can’t imagine it shrinking much smaller than Toledo… but it still has *three times* the population of Toledo.

  20. i keep seeing weyerhaeuser used in examples about job/population growth. that corporation is a shell of its former self. it’s just a drop in the bucket of seattle jobs and not worth mentioning unless you are grandstanding about attracting companies to seattle.

    1. Also apparently Alibaba will not be placing its North American headquarters in Seattle and will probably not expand their local workforce much beyond the current 25. Sounds like they’re choosing Houston.

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