Regional projections indicate a sharp slowing in Seattle and Bellevue, while Tacoma and Everett accelerate.
Regional projections indicate a sharp slowing of growth in Seattle and Bellevue, while Tacoma and Everett accelerate (year 2000 population=100%).

Recent Census data showed another year of strong growth in Seattle and Bellevue. Everett and Tacoma grew more slowly. This raised a familiar question: why are regional plans so out of step with recent experience? Seattle grew 2 1/2 times faster than either Everett or Tacoma in the last five years. Bellevue and other cities on the Central Eastside are also developing quickly. What would cause a reversal of these trends so that Tacoma and Everett can grow into their ambitious 2040 goals?

Regional growth plans are a mix of forecasting and policy-making. The State Office of Financial Management produces state and county forecasts. OFM population forecasts determine targets for housing growth, which are apportioned between cities by PSRC and county planning processes. In each county, the largest ‘Metropolitan’ cities (Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma and Everett) are allocated a portion of the anticipated growth. Other cities are allocated lesser shares of expected growth, as are unincorporated areas within the Urban Growth Area (UGA). Few unincorporated urban areas remain within King County, but many fast-growing suburbs in Pierce and Snohomish are unincorporated. Lower targets are set for rural areas outside the urban boundary.

The median housing target sets the floor for zoned capacity. Cities and Counties must zone for sufficient developable capacity. Some cities zone for greater capacity than required; others do the minimum to stay in compliance. Much planned development is within Regional Growth Centers.

Benchmarking recent data against the PSRC’s Land Use Vision puts the forecasts in context.

Pierce and Snohomish Counties have grown faster than King for decades. But King County recovered more quickly from the recession. Maybe it’s premature to conclude the ‘normal’ suburban growth norm won’t reassert itself. But other center cities in the US are also outpacing their suburbs. If the flight to the suburbs is really over, should we expect King to lag its neighbors in the future?

State forecasts are for Pierce and Snohomish County to outpace King, in a reversion to historical trends of faster growth in the suburbs
State forecasts are for Pierce and Snohomish County to outpace King, in a reversion to historical norms of faster growth in the suburbs.

King County, having recently outpaced forecasts with urban-focused growth, is expected to revert to the mean. Some of the reversion is just bureaucratic inertia as complex multi-jurisdictional planning processes play catch-up. The 2040 forecast implies a slowdown across King County with just 0.55% average growth over the next 25 years. That compares unfavorably to the 1.85% average countywide, and 2.4% in Seattle, observed over the last five years. This slow pace would restore the past balance between the counties.

Growth is to slow slightly in Pierce and Snohomish, but will outpace King County. Pierce and Snohomish planners are predicting dramatic changes in how their counties grow.

Growth will shift to the Metro cities (the steeply rising blue lines below). Both Everett and Tacoma have lagged behind neighboring suburbs. No longer. Everett and Tacoma are to grow much faster than their neighbors. Tacoma is to grow 1.8% per year, even as other urban areas in Pierce grow 1.1% and rural areas not at all. Everett’s planned growth of 1.9% through 2040 is more than twice the rate planned elsewhere in South Snohomish.

Put another way, Everett is allocated 30% of Snohomish growth through 2040, vs 7% in the last fifteen years. 45% of Pierce County’s growth would be in Tacoma, vs 10% in the last fifteen years.

2040 projections indicate a slowing in all parts of King County, and a radical rebalancing toward urban growth in Tacoma and Pierce
2040 projections indicate a slowing in King County, and a radical re-balancing toward urban growth in Tacoma and Pierce.

Growth of 1.8% per year over 25 years would bring a far-reaching urban renaissance in Tacoma and Everett. Perhaps urban amenities and a lower cost of living can combine to drive such growth, but it is a dramatic break from trend. The reversal of recent rapid growth in Bellevue and Seattle would be a significant break in trend in the opposite direction. The combination of circumstances seems unlikely.

74 Replies to “Our Improbable Growth Targets”

  1. I think your last paragraph sums it up. Seattle and Bellevue are getting so expensive – it is impossible for the young singles who currently are driving that growth to continue living there once they get older and want to raise a family. They will move to the suburbs or cheaper urban areas like Tacoma or Everett. In 10, 15 years there could be a big shift. Or maybe not?

    1. Thanks for covering the PSRC growth trends. This was more polite than seems warranted, however.

      It seems to be very much the same as WSDOT vmt estimates were for years.
      “We’ll forecast what we want to happen, instead of forecasting what is clearly happening.”

      And these forecasts are being used to justify the light rail spine of destiny, and ridership.
      There are real dollars at stake when they are in error, as the top graph on this page shows.

      It’d be nice to see estimated ballard/west seattle/east link ridership assuming the actual trendline continues.

      1. THIS.

        A reader able to read between the lines will catch that the state’s predictions are absurd. But many will not catch the subtlety. The connection @psf is making would have been an appropriate interpretation of the data, and in my mind a more useful one.

        We’re going to just end up with people debating what’s going to cause the flight out of Seattle, rather than having them question whether what’s in the state’s model is based on anything real.

      2. “And these forecasts are being used to justify the light rail spine of destiny”

        No they’re not. Everett and Tacoma need this with their current population.

      3. No, Everett and Tacoma do not need multi-billion dollar entirely grade-separated fixed-guideway rapid transit systems.

        They need better bus service and, in the case of Tacoma, better investment in the existing at-grade rail corridor.

      4. What Kyle said.

        I agree with JK. I like Tacoma, I think it is a great little city. But even if it grew, light rail connecting the two cites doesn’t make sense. The only way that the spine would make sense is if huge growth occurred right along side it. Not only residential growth, but employment growth. If the whole corridor looked like South Lake Union, then the spine would make some sense. But that will never happen.

        Even NYC doesn’t run their subway trains that far. Proximity matters. Ask Yonkers (a city way closer and more densely populated than Tacoma, yet lacking in subway connections to the Big Apple). They take express buses. They take express trains. It is what makes sense.

      5. Do Everett and Tacoma need a light rail line *all the way to Seattle* with their current populations?

        If Everett and Tacoma need better transit service, why don’t they build an Everett light rail line or expand the Tacoma light rail line? Stretching light rail out for dozens of miles through the middle of nowhere just so that these three distant cities can share a common system seems like ambitious-engineer thinking divorced from reality.

    2. Sorry but people don’t raise a family in a crumbling urban area…. move to suburbs, sure, but just because Seattle is too expensive it doesn’t naturally make Tacoma more attractive for families. It makes Shoreline, issaquah, and maybe Bainbridge more attractive.

      1. Bainbridge?

        For people moving out of Seattle maybe but regular people likely cannot afford to live on the island given it is the Kitsap County equivalent of Mercer Island. I believe you need at least 500,000 to get stared on Bainbridge plus traffic is becoming bad but not like Seattle traffic.

      2. Sounds like you haven’t been down to Tacoma in years. It’s not the same crumbling town of the early 90s. I was a skeptic too until my boyfriend convinced me to live down there and we are planning to start a family. Now I’m in love with the city. Especially the north and central neighborhoods.

      3. Tacoma is a very nice city. It wouldn’t surprise me if it grew substantially in the future. But it needs momentum — something to spark employment. It is tough for satellite cities to achieve that (if it wasn’t, then more cities would do the same thing). They already have the biggest, most reliable piece (a major university campus) but that hasn’t been enough. My guess is that graduates who start up a company, do so in the nearest big city — Seattle.

        But again, I don’t know if there is a recipe for satellite city success. Oakland and Berkeley have been very successful, but they are much closer to San Fransisco — they are essentially part of the same city. It seems like the cities that have been successful have had the good fortune to have a tech company locate there, and not much more.

        I don’t know what they need, but I would bet very strongly that it isn’t a 35 mile subway to Seattle.

      4. Always find it entertaining when a place is sold as cheap and allows you to go other places.

    3. It is more expensive because it is more popular. This means it is likely to grow faster, not slower. The suburbs grew really fast in the past because it was both cheap to build, and very popular. The former is no longer the case, and the latter is not the case once you build on all the cheap land. Building an apartment in Lynnwood costs roughly the same as it does to build one in Seattle. Since you can get more for your apartment in Seattle, it stands to reason that more apartments will be built there.

      Assuming, of course, they are allowed to be built. Zoning laws can change everything. It seems likely that Seattle will adopt more lenient zoning (HALA, or HALA type changes) in the next twenty years. I can’t speak to other cities, but my guess is unlike Seattle (where we banned Apodments because too many people wanted to live in them) the zoning is not what is holding them back (demand is).

      1. Ross, if by subway you mean “running underground”, nobody’s ever proposed that. But if you mean electric rail without grade crossings, last several years’ travel along that corridor lead me to different conclusion.

        The image that keeps coming to mind to me? Physically, connecting a healthy artery can indeed bring something in Tacoma’s good physical condition to life. Maybe the matter is that the very people who’d do well in Tacoma, for the city and themselves, presently don’t have means to get there.

        Our LINK cars are really not the right equipment. flickr from Southern Sweden I keep linking is a lot closer. In addition, the line south of the airport needs some serious upgrade before we build it any farther.

        Meaning some either some express passing track, or a higher operating speed. Any rail engineer know what’s possible with track we have? But I still think current ST electric line should make Tacoma.

        My “I-5 Thermometer” measure. If people are willing to plug an Interstate solid several hours daily for Tacoma travel, there must already be a large transit load in those cars as well.

        Mark Dublin

      2. @Mark — By subway I mean (as Kyle put it) a multi-billion dollar largely grade-separated fixed-guideway rapid transit system with lots of stops. You know, like the New York subway or the D. C. subway (neither of which are entirely underground). Neither of those are intended to connect to other cities, even though those other cities are often more densely populated or bigger than Tacoma.

        I use the term “subway” to differentiate it from “commuter rail”, as commuter rail tends to run on old existing rail lines (making it much cheaper) and it tends to run in an express manner. In many cases, it isn’t even “commuter” rail, but simply express rail (as in all day fairly frequent service — like that connecting Baltimore with D. C.). It is much faster than a subway, since it doesn’t make the stops.

        The definitions are a bit inexact, of course (like the difference between a river and a creek). But I think most people would call Link a subway, even folks want it to work like commuter rail in some cases. Sounder is a commuter rail system (making only a handful of stops between cities). Like most commuter rail systems, it didn’t cost a fortune (upgrading it wouldn’t cost a fortune, either). Link, on the other hand, like most subways, costs an enormous amount.

      3. It is more expensive because it is more popular. This means it is likely to grow faster, not slower.

        This. Saying “it won’t grow much because it’s too expensive” is like Yogi Berra’s “No one goes there anymore, because it’s too crowded.” Seattle’s expensiveness means that if for some reason it gets slightly less expensive, people who want to live there but were priced out will come rushing back in. It’s one of the stronger signs of likely future growth we can have.

      4. RossB,
        FWIW the DC Metro will soon extend all the way to Ashburn, VA 30 miles or so from Metro Center. But yes your point more or less stands. Most of the DC Metro with the exception of the Silver Line and one branch of the Red Line doesn’t extend more than 15 miles from Downtown DC.

    4. Fact is, nobody can completely predict housing and traffic patterns with an certainty over any given space of time. Wasn’t long ago that South Lake Union was a sleepy neigborhood of car-lots and little working-class type shops.

      Or predict massive choking effect of resulting traffic on I-5, which if it isn’t a spine is giving a good imitation of spinal arthritis. So to me, transitioning DSTT and route lengths from full bus to full rail provides good example as to handle uncertainty.

      Especially, wherever practical, build critical and long-lasting elements that will both improve a slowly growing line and, more important, be a shovel-ready start for future growth when it’s time.

      BRT is excellent example- just so it’s designed for fast and easy conversion to joint use and rail when the time comes.


  2. You can’t repeal geography. Seattle and Bellevue will run out of room way before Everett and Tacoma do. Yes, Seattle can build higher, but higher gets to be more expensive.

    1. You don’t have to build very high to accommodate more people. Brooklyn and SF aren’t full of very tall buildings, and yet Seattle could support almost 3 million people at Brooklyn-level density and 1.5M at SF-level density.

      The PSRC recognizes (probably correctly) that such density is politically unlikely, and so assumes more suburban growth. But it doesn’t have much to do with geography.

      1. …..and at Paris density of 55,600 per square mile Seattle could house what? All of Oregon and Washington?

        If you’ve got surface parking lots, then you haven’t run out of space.

    2. I live one mile from downtown. All around me there are lawns, trees, yards, suburban-style houses. Seattle is so undeveloped it’s hilarious. Seattle could double or triple its population without adding a single skyscraper if it got its absurdly uptight zoning codes under control and started allowing normal infill development to happen in its vast tracts of “single-family only, renters get out” zones.

      1. Yeah—Los Angeles, which is way denser than Seattle, accommodates most of its population in 3-5 story apartment buildings where there used to be single family homes. If you replace every single family home with 4 apartments, you quadruple the area’s density. It is as simple as that.

      2. Sorry, that was a mistake: I live one mile from Capitol Hill. My house in Madison Valley is more like two miles from downtown. Still – the fact that a neighborhood this close to the center of the city still has such an essentially suburban character is all the proof I need that Seattle can accommodate many years of increasing population without becoming Manhattan, if only it would get its collective head out of its collective ass and stop prohibiting the normal processes which would otherwise produce gradual densification. I don’t mind skyscrapers, but skyscrapers are not really what we need. This is what we need: unlock all these enormous preserved-in-amber SF5000 suburbia zones by relaxing the zoning code so that people can build plain old duplexes, triplexes, quads, and Brooklyn-style brownstones anywhere they want throughout the city. Cheap, simple, effective, nothing radical, just let the city grow like cities have always grown and the problem will solve itself.

    3. It’s true that anything over 5-6 stories requires steel and concrete and will often end up more expensive on a per-sf basis. But a good majority of growth in Seattle is wood-framed over concrete, which building codes allow to go up to 5-6 stories but zoning codes in many of our “urban villages” limit to 3-4. Throw in the tendency for wood construction to “filter” and decrease in value quicker than steel high-rises, and it speaks to how much of a waste it is, from an affordability perspective, to pass on adding those extra market-rate housing units. See HALA rec. MF.5.

      1. It’ll be interesting to see if CLT construction becomes a thing, and how it does or doesn’t change urban form. It looks like it improves the economic case (while vastly reducing the carbon footprint) of buildings around 8 stories. But that’s dependent on getting building code adapted to it, getting a few suppliers competing on price, and getting to structuring companies familiar with it.

    4. Seattle does have some space for more dense urban growth. The U District will be able to absorb nearly as much growth as Downtown Bellevue, if the big upzone goes through. That, coupled with infill elsewhere, should keep the growth robust.

      From what I read here on this blog, Tacoma has plenty of room to growth, but it will require a Tacoma specific boom akin to what happened to SLU, where something drives a big development boom, whether it’s a single company grows, or a industry emerges in Tacoma that it’s there before. I’ll be curious to see if the Link connection to the airport make Tacoma more competitive, between landing more convention time business or more simply more jobs via HQs or secondary offices. It may be able to position itself as a great “secondary” city on the West Coast, with a great airport & port and close promixty to the King County knowledge workers, while being a much cheaper place to operate than Seattle, California, and even Portland?

      Simply drafting off the general Puget economy will get decent growth, but not as much as these projections. Unless we can figure out a way to connect Tacoma to the King County job centers (Sounder?) that make Tacoma a great place to live. It’ll never be a commuter city, but adding a few thousand people who commute to King County, plus the associated service jobs around where these people live, may give it enough marginal growth to meet these projects.

      1. Tacoma is already a great place to live, but few people end up staying. I know a lot of people who moved there young, because it was affordable, loved it, and then moved away once they landed a steady job in the Seattle-Bellevue-Redmond tech corridor because the commute was so atrocious.

        That’s what ends up suppressing rents and home prices in Tacoma, making it so affordable. They just haven’t been able to add jobs the way Seattle and the Eastside have. I don’t know if finishing Link to Tacoma will help them add jobs, but it certainly can’t hurt

      2. For Tacoma’s population to grow, it needs to do two things, either grow as a job center, or better connect itself to the Seattle/Eastside job centers. Link to Tacoma will help with the former but not really the latter.

      3. @AJ
        >> For Tacoma’s population to grow, it needs to do two things, either grow as a job center, or better connect itself to the Seattle/Eastside job centers.

        I agree. Although it could also grow as a retirement community (and I expect it will).

        >> Link to Tacoma will help with the former but not really the latter.

        I don’t see Link helping with either. At least, not relative to the money it costs. That is the problem, and why I disagree with Lack Thereof. I think Link to Tacoma could very much hurt Tacoma. Imagine three years from now, Pierce County or Tacoma wants to increase spending on transit. Opponents will basically say “We spent billions on light rail, and now you want to spend even more? Forget about it!”. Worse yet, what if folks reject a school levy (or two) because the ST taxes are too high. Those failures would hurt Tacoma far more than Link would help it.

      4. @Ross B

        In 2013 Tacoma passed a record $500million levy to rebuild and modernize our public schools. In 2014 we then passed a $198million capitol bond measure to fund park a zoo improvements for Metro Parks Tacoma. Last year we passed a $175million levy to repair and improve our streets. We also voted twice to increase sales tax during the recession to fund Pierce Transit only to be dragged down by Puyallup, South Hill, Bonney Lake and the like.

        We in Tacoma are getting to be almost as happy to tax ourselves as our good friends to the north. I don’t think that the sudden arrival of link light rail in 2030 will fundamentally shift our politics to an irrevocably tax averse mindset.

        Link to the airport may make Downtown Tacoma a more attractive place for businesses to locate. It may deliver suburbanites in Federal Way to the job center in Tacoma that already employs more people than any other PSRC designated growth center outside of Seattle other than downtown Bellevue. It may do neither of those things and only give 200,000+ people better car-free access to the airport and Ballard/UW/WestSeattle.

        It will not single handedley doom the Puget Sound mass transit system. At the worst it will be a way to win a vote in ST3 and get a second downtown tunnel partially paid for by Pierce County; the biggest donor area to ST.


        RossB, AJ, Lack, and everybody else, we all need to be doing some historic research.

        Tacoma, the second largest city in Washington, started out strong as an energetic industrial power. For a long time, it was the “Front Runner” (please don’t visualize present political ones!) for the railway terminal of the Pacific Northwest.

        From first time I saw Tacoma, two things have never added up. One, the excellent physical condition of its Central Business District- on view real-estate competitive with Seattle.

        Museums that beat Seattle Art Museum all hollow: and didn’t need to destroy a valuable operating streetcar line to do it. With many square miles of residential neighborhoods in similarly good shape.

        But two, fifty years of what would be called stagnation if it wasn’t so pretty. One thing nobody is mentioning is the really awful sulfur smell that long hung over Tacoma- I sometimes think it’s still there, sometimes not.

        This single factor really could, by itself, kill Tacoma as a bearable, let alone desirable, place to live.

        Again, possibly old vs. new sensibilities. When industry gave the average person wages that have never anwhere near been matched since, people really did say, truthfully: “Quit complaining. It’s the smell of your paycheck!”

        Unfunded smell, different matter. Especially when I-5 and similar made it possible to live and work places without the “Aroma”. And naturally made no attempt at all to stay, invest, or shop there once the well-paid work was gone.

        But personal thing, maybe, and not matter of stats or reason: Tacoma feels like a place where industrial work is will always be more comfortable than finance or IT.

        Many of us who moved out of Ballard and places near South Lake Union for reasons in addition to unlivable price, like the flat boredom of the Seattle economy, present and future, that in its own way smells worse than downwind from a paper plant.

        So Tacoma really could have a decent potential population, added some of the present generation of industrial work and design whose aroma gives no competition to coffee roasters and breweries.

        Also: we really don’t have to paint our trains purple. In addition to wrapping their windows at all, since from the inside, that crud is always the same color. And damages the commercial economy by making so much other advertising as invisible as one’s approaching transit stop at night.



      6. >> We also voted twice to increase sales tax during the recession to fund Pierce Transit only to be dragged down by Puyallup, South Hill, Bonney Lake and the like.

        and they could drag you down again. That is my point. Capitol Hill gets dragged down by Magnolia in city wide votes. The suburbs drag down Seattle in county wide votes. But in all those cases, overall satisfaction with money spent on the particular system (e. g. transit) as well as tax rates in general play a big part in whether a project passes or not.

        >> Link to the airport may make Downtown Tacoma a more attractive place for businesses to locate.

        I doubt it. I know of no city anywhere that has benefited in any measurable way from a line like that. It won’t even be that fast to the airport. Most of the time, you are better off taking a cab or a shuttle bus.

        >> It may deliver suburbanites in Federal Way to the job center in Tacoma that already employs more people than any other PSRC designated growth center outside of Seattle other than downtown Bellevue.

        Absolutely, but so what? Why spend billions connecting one set of suburbs to one part of Tacoma? Those suburbs aren’t even special. Look at a census map, and see if you can find the route Link will take, based on it ( It isn’t obvious to me. If I was running a line from Tacoma to connect it to the suburbs, I would send it south. But doing that would be just as ridiculous. Spending that kind of money on that kind of density is nuts (run a lot more buses).

        >> It may do neither of those things and only give 200,000+ people better car-free access to the airport and Ballard/UW/WestSeattle.

        Is is better? Again, express bus service to SeaTac is probably faster, while express bus service to Seattle definitely is. Even Sounder is faster! Who wants to take an hour and a half trip to West Seattle? Think that is an exaggeration, not really:

        Drive to the park and ride — 15 minutes
        Wait for the train — 10 minutes
        Ride the train to SoDo — 60 minutes
        Wait for the train to West Seattle — 5 minutes
        Take the train to the transfer center in West Seattle — 5 minutes
        Take the bus to where you want to go in West Seattle — 10 minutes.

        Sorry, D., not that many people will do that. Even cities that have much better, yet similar systems don’t have many riders. Take Fremont California. It is roughly the same size as Tacoma, yet has much bigger pockets of density than Tacoma. It is connected via BART to the rest of the region (a region much bigger in employment and population than Seattle). BART is much faster than Link, making far fewer stops (meaning someone can get to popular destinations like Oakland/Berkeley or San Fransisco much faster). Yet with all of that, less than 9,000 a day ride the train. That is much better than most of non-core areas of BART, but it is only 9,000 a day for an entire city. Tacoma would be lucky to get half that — but even if it did — spending that kind of money on a line for that few (when it won’t even be faster) is ridiculous.

        No one does that. BART was a huge experiment, that on the surface made some sense (for the reasons you mentioned). But even with the huge speed advantages of BART, it is still one of the least cost efficient systems of saving people money (outside the urban core). What works is commuter rail (which is cheap) along with express bus service (which is fast and cheap). There just aren’t that many people who want to go from suburb to suburb the way there are people who want to go from neighborhood to neighborhood. Nor are there people who want to sit for a very long time to get to the city.

        If you want to build a high speed line connecting Seattle and Tacoma, count me in. Baltimore has this connecting it with D. C., and it works quite well. It obviously hasn’t made much of a difference in fixing Baltimore, but Baltimore has a lot more problems than Tacoma.

    5. The higher you build, the more mass transit in that area makes sense. Low density areas (whether built because it is cheaper or not) don’t make sense for similar investments.

      That really is the big question we should be asking: Which areas will have major increases in density in the next 40 years. I think you have already answered that question (it ain’t Everett).

      1. East Portland between SE 12 and 50th or so, north of Division and south of Stark, is pretty good at transit use. It’s mostly low level houses (a fair number converted to multiplex) and small apartment buildings. Your favorite census map illustrates the area pretty nicely.

        Some places just aren’t going to go for standard apartment buildings. Allowing conversions might work better in some places.

      2. Yeah, absolutely. People think really high buildings equals density, when it isn’t always that way. Much of Brooklyn is low slung town houses, and those neighborhoods are as dense as Belltown (which is the most densely populated area in Washington State).

  3. What would be fantastic would be if we could get a progressive statehouse that would tighten up the GMA to prohibit the continued sprawl. Tacoma is seeing the beginning of a nice urban renaissance, already. Sadly, this is occurring in neighborhoods that are already much better off than the rest of the city. Stronger growth management regulations would encourage builders to seek more infill development in places like Tacoma and Everett.

    As far as the discussion on housing affordability in Seattle, it is absolutely absurd for most working-class people to even attempt to live in Seattle. The median price of a 3-bedroom home in Seattle is $610,000. I’d love to live there, but it simply is nowhere close to fitting into the family budget. People would be smart to look for job opportunities in more affordable cities like Tacoma.

    1. As far as the discussion on housing affordability in Seattle, it is absolutely absurd for most working-class people to even attempt to live in Seattle. The median price of a 3-bedroom home in Seattle is $610,000. I’d love to live there, but it simply is nowhere close to fitting into the family budget. People would be smart to look for job opportunities in more affordable cities like Tacoma.

      Yet when you walk around those Seattle neighborhoods with home prices that don’t fit into the family budget, you see that they are full of retail and foodservice businesses manned by armies of low-wage workers. No matter how much “smarter” it would be for those workers to find jobs in Tacoma, the jobs physically in Seattle will always be filled by someone.

      Low wage workers will not be leaving Seattle any time soon, not unless every retail business also pulls out of Seattle.

      1. Yes. It’s true. There will always be low wage jobs, even in unaffordable places. Here’s the thing though. This blog has basically written off Tacoma and Everett as undeserving of the growth figures that PSRC has assigned them. In my opinion, it would make a whole lot more sense to start promoting job and residential growth in Tacoma or Everett, where working people can afford to live. There is a ton of developable land in both of these cities that already has infrastructure in place and is conducive to walking and, assuming voters have the political will to pass a levy, public transportation. This would of course need to be done in concert with stronger growth management regulations to ensure that we don’t end up with more sprawl.

      2. It’s not a question of whether or not an area “deserves” growth, it’s a question of what is actually likely to happen. Do you think that Everett and Tacoma and other cities aren’t actively promoting themselves as a good location for housing and jobs? And yet Seattle is growing faster. Our projections should be based on facts, not aspirations.

    2. You can obviously get more for your money in Tacoma, but there are still some good houses that can be bought in plenty of Seattle neighborhoods for around $400,000. That is not cheap, by any means, but it is a lot cheaper than $600,000. The thing is, those $400,000 houses aren’t in the nicest, most centrally located neighborhoods, but tend do be on the outskirts (Lake City, Rainier Beach, etc.). Those neighborhoods are very undervalued, in my opinion.

      1. In Tacoma, you can get 3000 SF with a view of the Narrows Bridge for under $400k

      2. Yes, those $400K houses in Seattle’s non-trendy neighborhoods. We call those Fixers. There’s a subset of urbanists who insist those relatively affordable houses be torn down and replaced with $650K town homes, all in the name of Density, Density, Density. I hope their plans fail.

      3. If someone is willing to pay $650,000 to live in a location and has to do so given limited housing supply, they will.

        So, you would rather those several single family houses sell for $650,000 and push up the prices of housing everywhere else, or would you rather replace them with twice as many townhouses so that housing remains more affordable?

        There’s only two choices: grow by sprawl so prices that are very high for a few places in desirable areas, or increase density and relieve the pressure on the housing market.

      4. Yes, those $400K houses in Seattle’s non-trendy neighborhoods. We call those Fixers. There’s a subset of urbanists who insist those relatively affordable houses be torn down and replaced with $650K town homes, all in the name of Density, Density, Density. I hope their plans fail.

        As you know perfectly well, where land is valuable enough that it makes economic sense to tear down a livable 400K house and build three new townhomes, that 400K house is just a few years away from being worth as much or more than those townhomes would be now. Preventing new housing from being built is disastrous for affordability. (It wasn’t long ago at all that people making your argument used 300K as the baseline for the ‘affordable’ homes in Seattle we must protect. By 2020, you’ll be singing the virtue of the 500K “affordable” homes.)

      1. Oops!! I misremembered a data glitch in OFM’s population data. They adjust every decade to match the census, which leads to weird results. Obviously that’s not what’s happening here.

        Graphic updated here.

    1. Thanks Matt. I too was looking for a vertical line separating historic data from wild, magic-eightball, predictions.

    2. Thanks Matt. Like Pete, I was looking for exactly that. Better yet is to have everything to the right be dotted (as those are predictions, not fact). But yeah, if you just cover up the part on the right (the prediction) the part on the right looks ridiculous. No one would suggest that Bellevue and Seattle suddenly have a downturn, while Tacoma and Everett suddenly soar.

  4. Compare to national trends, where wealth has been consolidating in a handful of booming cities while many other cities are unable to escape post-industrial decline.

    Or compare to the Bay Area, which is a little more developed than we are: maybe these days a commercial renaissance in a “second city” like Oakland would have to follow a period where it becomes a more attractive place to live (gentrification?).

    On some measures (other than pure economic growth… and maybe carbon footprint…) we might consider growth reinforcing the old cores of Everett and Tacoma to be really positive. But is it actually a likely outcome? Or is more “regional” planning simply likely to reinforce the centralizing trend, with Seattle and Bellevue as economic powerhouses, and housing being spread around them according to people’s ability to pay and willingness to commute? Consider it this way: if you are opening an office for a small business, and you know that Seattle is attractive to a lot of your prospective employees but you can’t afford the space you want in downtown Seattle or Bellevue, is downtown Everett or Tacoma the next place you look?

    1. I think we are all arm chair economists now. I would love to chat with Jon Talton about this.

      As I said above, I really don’t see Tacoma or Everett growing, absent blind luck (some tech company decides to locate there, and things go bonkers). Oakland has gentrified, and grown, but Oakland is really (I mean really) part of San Francisco (as is Berkeley). It has been for a long time. It is only a few miles across (a fifteen minute drive without traffic) and the downtown area is right by that end of town (as the crow flies, there are parts of San Fransisco that are farther away from downtown than parts of Oakland). Oakland and Berkeley are also big (almost as big as Seattle). The only thing that has changed is the idea that white people are no longer so damn scared to live next to black people (and yes, you can thank gay people of all stripes for that revelation).

      Tacoma and Everett are far more independent, because they are much farther away. Putting aside the history and culture, Bellevue is more like Oakland than Tacoma. Bellevue also had that bit of blind luck, with a tech company located *away* from Seattle. The obvious middle ground was Bellevue proper, and sure enough, it has boomed.

      So, to answer your question — no, probably not. You don’t open a fancy office in Seattle, you open a cheap office in Seattle. Open it in Fremont, Georgetown, Ballard, Rainier Valley or White Center. If you are successful, you move closer to the center (unless you opened in Fremont or Ballard — you might just stay put). Otherwise, it really doesn’t matter (chances are you haven’t spent too much money on office space). That is why Tacoma struggles, and why I don’t see them fulfilling their destiny any time soon.

      But I’ve been wrong before. I had the Spurs beating the Oakland Warriors to reach the finals.

  5. Good discussion about growth projections. The concern about how these projections impact funding decisions is a real one. But, before we use terms like “goofy,” consider: King County used to follow the same pattern that is going on currently in Snohomish and Pierce counties, with growth predominantly in outlying suburbs. Now, the strongest growth is in Seattle. Will Snohomish and Pierce counties someday follow King County’s trend as greenfeild development areas within the UGA run out? South Lake Union saw little development for 60 years and now is supper hot. Who would have predicted that the grungy area of SLU would become one of the most desirable places in the region? Could something similar happen to other areas, including Everett and Tacoma? Local growth tends to be boom, bust, wait, panic. The question might be less, will strong growth come to Tacoma and Everett, but when? If it doesn’t where will that growth go? Will, Seattle, which is already expected to accommodate more than 100,000 additional people, find a way to accommodate even more or will it go elsewhere? If there’s market demand for more Eastside housing (and jobs), will communities there adopt the rezones to allow development?

    1. I hereby reserve my right to call the state’s numbers “goofy” unless and until the state actually claims any of those theories are true. It’s certainly possible you’re right, but if the state’s using those ideas as assumptions it would be pretty irresponsible not to state them clearly and publicly.

      It seems more likely to me that the state is just using past models without challenging their assumptions. See psf’s link for previous experience.

      1. Yep, goofy. I remember similar graphs for electric usage when I was in school in the 70s, used to justify nuclear power. Despite the fact that we are more dependent than ever on electricity (writing this not on paper and pen, nor typewriter, but on an electric powered machine hooked up to a network of electric powered machines) — that hasn’t happened. To be fair to those making the predictions, they never forecast the huge breakthroughs in efficiency that have occurred.

        In comparison, I think they simply based their predictions on the increased popularity of suburbs, both for living and working. In that sense, it made sense. Microsoft (and other tech companies) moving to farm country (and Redmond was farm country not too long ago) was just part of the general trend. But by the turn of the century, it was obvious that the trend had waned, and now reversed itself. Weyerhaeuser (Weyerhaeuser!) has moved from Tacoma, to Federal Way to the heart of Seattle.

    2. Eastside does have some upzones in place to capture significant growth – Bellevue downtown, Overlake, Issaquah town center. And other areas, like Totem Lake, are intended to capture more growth though may not be currently zoned for such. So I think the more interesting question is will Seattle cool off in the long run, or will Snohomish or Pierce catch up, especially in their urban cores?

    3. Gonna go out of order a bit here.

      Will, Seattle, which is already expected to accommodate more than 100,000 additional people, find a way to accommodate even more or will it go elsewhere?

      I predict housing growth in Seattle will crawl along at it’s normal glacial pace, regardless of demand. There are just too many powerful interest groups fighting for every last inch of single family zoning. I cynically believe this is because any steadying of housing costs in the city would hurt people who have speculatively invested in local housing stock, and who thus benefit from restricted supply and rising prices.

      I feel like City government has come a long way in the past decade or so towards recognizing the need to house more people. I think a lot of city officials had assumed that housing in the CD and Rainier Valley was going to magically remain cheap forever, no matter what happened in the rest of the city, and had a very rude awakening when they found the new workers were not just moving into the traditionally classy neighborhoods. But movement towards adding significant housing near the job centers is still glacially slow.

      If there’s market demand for more Eastside housing (and jobs), will communities there adopt the rezones to allow development?

      Oh hell no, they won’t rezone, they’ll just sit back and cackle while they watch the value of their real-estate investments skyrocket. Modus operandi for Eastside cities is to allow as little housing as GMA requires. That’s how the Redmond ended up with housing even less affordable than Seattle.

      If it doesn’t where will that growth go?

      It’ll go further out, and into less desirable areas. Look at my precious Burien here. Our “downtown” is full of areas zoned for ~6 story mixed-use development, but only occupied by 1-story retail or parking. The city has been trying to attract developers to remake downtown for a decade or more, and we’re not the only city in the south end in a similar situation. If job growth continues to outpace housing growth in the center city and Seattle says “nope, we’re full”, then the housing growth goes into a hundred similar towns in the suburbs, turning them all into bedroom communities for better or worse.

      1. >> I predict housing growth in Seattle will crawl along at it’s normal glacial pace, regardless of demand.

        Glacial pace? In absolute number it is growing faster than every other region, It is booming. Other areas, not so much.

        There are still plenty of places that are underdeveloped. Why are people assuming that Everett will boom because it is cheaper there, but Rainier Valley, Lake City, White Center and Bitter Lake won’t? Of course the zoning laws are holding things back, but it is still booming, just not as much as demand would allow it. The result will be that those less desirable places — the ones in many cases that the city wants to grow — will grow faster. Do you really think Lake City wouldn’t have the boom it has now if not for the boom in Ballard and Capitol Hill?

        All of that is assuming that there will be no change to the zoning laws. The changes that HALA proposed would simply add fuel to the fire, allowing the city itself to grow much faster. Which is not to say that Seattle will ever get affordable again, but simply that growth will happen here at a faster pace than everywhere else (because — as crazy as it sounds — it is where people want to live).

      2. An anecdote: Burien is starting to look very attractive to myself and friends for land purchase and small home construction. We are all in the $45,000-$70,000 year earning range. Our biggest fear? The fu*#ing commute to our jobs in Seattle!!!

        And I totally agree about how speculation of real estate fuels housing policy in the Puget Sound area. It sucks!

      3. The housing market in Seattle is ridiculous. We’re looking to buy. It was common for houses in “hot” neighborhoods like Ravenna, Wedgwood, Maple Leaf to be listed for $400,000 and sell for $500,000+. Yes, houses were routinely selling for 25-30% over listing. “Less” desirable areas like Lake City, Northgate and Shoreline were also escalating way over the listing price. Some of that is supply and demand, And some of it are sellers who are afraid to sell because they’re worried they won’t find a house to buy. And some of it is a feeding frenzy. Once a buyer gets outbid 4-5 times in a row, they will bid much more aggressively, adding fuel to the housing frenzy.

        Ultimately Seattle proved to be too expensive for us, so we bought in Lake Forest Park. Where we only had to bid 15% over the listing price. Not a car-free paradise, but it’s along the 372/522 route so there’s frequent enough bus service.

        Our realtor said the last few years have been the worst for buyers. Compared to previous years, there have been half the number of houses listed. If that’s not because the absolute number of available houses are shrinking, it’s because each house sells within a few days of being listed.

  6. Hey guys! I think some of you may need a basic education of how population projections and forecasts are not the same thing, and that there are several ways to get to future year numbers. This I learned in graduate school in a projections class — which even many planners haven’t fully had to learn.

    The OFM process is clearly a “projection”. Every single state in the US has an official state-generated projection created by something known as the cohort survival method. That is based on projecting birth rates, death rates and migration rates. It is governed by a set of very specific rules so that when the Federal government looks at data, it isn’t skewed based on local bias. It is supposed to be an even bar. They do not look at available land use at all, which is their big weakness. It looks at recent trends by age group only.

    The PSRC is supposed to product a land use “forecast”. That forecast is supposed to be based on land use, long-range plans and local review. The past does not govern the future in a forecast. Also, this is where there can be policy discussions of how best to allocated growth throughout the region.

    In sum, a projection is based on current population trends by age group and the methodology is fixed, and a forecast is based on lots of factors and review and can be changed through a feedback process.

    1. Interesting. That makes sense. So, if people don’t move, there will simply be more babies in those other cities. That makes a lot more sense.

    2. Thanks for the feedback!it’s a huge help to get some concrete knowledge on this, where it is easy to muddle along misunderstanding things because we are enthusiasts instead of professionals.

    3. Ross,

      This doesn’t make sense.
      “The past does not govern the future in a forecast.”

      Why should PSRC be asserting – and tying Sound Transits hand wrt to justifying Light Rail – that the growth should stop occurring in Seattle and Bellevue, and occur in Tacoma in Everett instead.

      The PSRC forecast actively hurts the ridership justification for Ballard && Redmond, and artificially helps the justification for light rail to Tacoma and Everett.
      This is bad policy for the region, and for taxpayers.

      1. I’m saying Al’s explanation makes sense (for why they project increases in Everett, but not Seattle). It completely ignored migration (which is feeding growth in Seattle much faster than birth rates). For PSRC to use those numbers (if that is what they are doing) doesn’t make any sense at all. I agree with that. We should base our numbers on current trends, which suggest that Seattle will grow in absolute number much faster than the other regions. More importantly, Seattle will increase density (in absolute number) much faster. Since density plays a much bigger part in transit use, that is what we should be looking at (going from 10,000 people per square mile to 20,000 means a lot more than going from 5 to 100 when it comes to transit planning).

      2. So, remember the mix of forecast and policy here. Al above maybe explained it more clearly than I. The County forecast is a forecasting exercise. The state thinks Snohomish will outpace King because it (almost) always has. 2010-2015 was the first five-year period when King grew faster. Even then, Snohomish grew a little faster in the last two years.

        I suspect, like many here, that the trend has turned, but I can see a reasonable argument that maybe we’re still looking at a blip.

        Where the policy decision takes over is within Snohomish. The County has made a decision that they want to divert a lot of growth away from sprawly Mill Creek and into Everett because it’s more sustainable.

        It would be good if they could succeed. Is there a precedent for a dense bedroom community 35 miles from the metropolitan center? Not that I can think of, but there are few precedents for cities even trying to do this. Even the Bay Area never really tried. They built the long spindly rail lines, but the cities at the ends of the lines never got on board with densification.

      3. Without getting too elaborate, the OFM cohort model looks at birth rates, death rates and migration rates. I forgot to mention that it also looks at fertility rates for females of child-bearing age. It’s not a forecast though — it’s merely a projection!

        OFM projections are like one of those retirement projection sites where you see how much money would be in your 401K in 20 years if you put aside a certain amount each week. It doesn’t mean that’s what you will actually have that in your 401K because you might change it in the future for a variety of reasons — just what you will have if you don’t change anything.

        What deserves much more discussion is the PSRC forecasts, because that can be independent of past trends as I said. Sure past trends can be an input, but so can remaining vacant land, zoning requirements, recent market trends, anticipated household sizes by housing type, redevelopment potential, new transit villages and on and on. The PSRC forecasting process needs lots of discussion and scrutiny on STB, in particular because of the increasingly popular new urbanism trends happening in Seattle and to a lesser extent in Bellevue. Their process is terribly out-of-date.

    4. This makes the process more clear, with the division between State OFM projections and PSRC city-level forecasts.

      The State OFM is projecting county growth based on pre-2010 trends. They don’t appear to have updated their “migration” model for post-2010 trends. OFM produces annual population estimates for cities, and their 2015 estimate for Seattle is 662,000, while the US Census Bureau 2015 estimate is 684,000. So OFM isn’t even making the same assumptions as the US Census for current population trends.

      I can understand the reluctance of OFM to radically change their models based only on a few years of data. However, at least they should update the 2040 projections make sense from the starting point of 2015 instead of 2010.

      1. Thanks Chad. Really interesting. So the state is using old migration models, which PSRC uses to estimate city-level population growth, which ST uses to estimate ridership, which uses it to build 100+ year infrastructure?

  7. “Regional growth plans are a mix of forecasting and policy-making”.

    I think the main takeaway from the article is that regional growth plans are much more about policy-making than about forecasting.

    A forecast might reasonably look at short-term trends and see them as the beginning of a long-term shift; in that case, we’d forecast massive growth in Seattle and Bellevue. One might look at the long term trend, instead, and project growth in unincorporated areas and distant suburbs.

    The growth plan does neither – it projects growth in the dense/urban areas that aren’t Seattle. It isn’t a totally outlandish argument, if you combine the new desire for urban living with increasingly prohibitive housing costs in Seattle – but that’s going on quite a limb, projection-wise.

    It seems to me that instead, this is about policy making. People aren’t as interested in moving into the exurbs, and neither are current residents interested in building more exurb. Simultaneously, there are strong political forces in Seattle for limiting growth – it’s a huge risk to ask Seattle to absorb as much growth as there is demand for, as a heck of a lot of people are already mad about construction.

    The solution is to push growth to places nobody cares about – urban growth centers made up of strip malls and big-box stores – and places that would like to see the development – the downtown regions of Tacoma and Everett that have great bones but no momentum.

    As a forecasting document, it’s a bit of a joke. But as policy, it makes plenty of political sense. If regional demand remains strong and zoning keeps to minimums, the policy could make the forecasts accurate.

    1. I agree, this is policy masquerading as prediction.

      I do take issue with your comments about Seattle absorbing more growth. More to the point, I see no difference between it and other cities. Do you think Tacoma is eager to see some of its very nice single family homes torn down so that apartments can be built? I don’t see it.

      If anything, I see Seattle being way more eager to liberalize zoning than the other cities. Seattle is finally gradually moving towards a more rational way of handling growth. HALA is sensible compromise. It has met with plenty of opposition, but the politicians who are trying to water it down are simply trying to have it both ways — talk about preservation at the same time they claim this will help substantially with housing costs. But I see nothing in the last election that suggests we will move the other direction. Far from it. When it comes to zoning policy, the liberals won and the conservatives lost. This trend will continue (as a higher and higher percentage of the voters live in apartments). Even if it doesn’t — even if there are no substantial changes in zoning policy for the city as a whole — Seattle is still likely to absorb more growth.

      1. Tacoma does have a lot more underutilized land, though nothing like the vast acres of grassy parking lots in downtown Federal Way.

  8. The way we staged DSTT, bus to joint-use to full rail is excellent example of how to handle passenger variance in the future.

    Build solid minimum-crossing rights-of-way structured and graded for rail, but runnable in all three above modes as needed.

    Also, build features along each route that’ll be needed no matter what, like bridges and tunnels, so they’re usable short term, available long term, and ready-made staging platforms for future extensions.

    However long by the decade growth takes, in a corridor flat and safe and pretty, like the Puget Sound Area from the Cascades to the Sound, people will fill it up. Either by moving in or simply remaining in bed as long as each individual contribution takes to generate.

    Which is also always positive for transit personnel recruitment since little boys love to ride LINK ’til they can drive it, and little girls love to supervise anything, especially where they get to tell their brothers what to do and report infractions to their mother.


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