Seattle’s growth is still accelerating. Census estimates released yesterday show almost 21 thousand new residents in Seattle in the year ended July 2016. With 704 thousand residents, Seattle is once again the nation’s fastest growing city with 3.1% annual growth.
We’ve become accustomed to fast growth, averaging 15 thousand new residents in Seattle annually between 2010 and 2015. So it’s impressive how Seattle has stepped up its game to add even more residents. As Gene Balk observed yesterday, Seattle is only the second top 50 city to grow more than 3% in one year this decade (the other was Austin in 2012). 3% growth in a mature city is a big deal.
Demand for urban living is strong, as evidenced by high prices for homes in walkable neighborhoods all over the US. But most cities have a hard time delivering those homes. Curbs on urban growth push many involuntarily to the suburbs, and most metropolitan areas are still becoming more suburban. More so than any large American metropolitan area, Seattle has densified as it has grown.
Seattle accounted for a massive 58% of all King County growth in 2016. Seattle’s acceleration was matched by a slowing of growth in many King County suburban cities. Total growth in King County in 2016 was about the same as 2015. A few cities on the central Eastside performed well. Bellevue (+1.3%), Redmond (+3.2%), and Issaquah (+3.6%) all showed healthy growth rates. But the rest of King County had its weakest growth since the recession, and expanded just 0.8%.
Taken together with the county-level migration patterns we reported in March, we see two diverging trends. Seattle and a few progressive cities on the Eastside are expanding housing to match the employment boom. At the same time, other King County suburbs are slowing housing growth, fueling an accelerated migration to more distant suburbs in Snohomish and Pierce Counties.
The largest cities in Snohomish and Pierce Counties had a good year. Lynnwood added 1,200 residents (+3.1%), more than in the preceding five years together, boosted by development near Alderwood. Everett added 1,800 (+1.7%). Tacoma added 3,600 (+1.7%). Everett and Lynnwood outpaced the Snohomish County average, but Tacoma has persistently lagged exurban Pierce County.
While not large in absolute terms, some exurban cities are growing strongly. Marysville and Puyallup were among those adding more than one thousand residents in 2016.
The centralization of growth in Seattle in 2016 was remarkable. For most of this decade, Seattle’s share of King County population growth hovered around 40%. The lopsided urban expansion (58% in Seattle) reflects both the city’s success in expanding housing supply, and failure in many King County suburbs to accommodate housing demand. We should celebrate 21 thousand new Seattleites, but not be distracted from the growing housing shortage countywide.