It’s not where you think, and not the kind of place you’d expect.

This is an open thread.

35 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: The Densest “Place” in the U.S.”

  1. If I did the math right, Friendship Village Heights at 0.06 sq mi is a 1/4 section (section = 1 sq mi). So on the King County grid that would be 8 blocks by 8 blocks. That’s roughly the size of DT Redmond. Or Bellevue from NE 4th to NE 12th and Bellevue Way over to 112th (which leaves out Bell Sq, DT Park and “Old Bellevue”). The difference is these areas are truly mixed use with residences, office space and retail. Whereas Friendship is, from what I could see, purely a bedroom community. It has no jobs center, no city hall, no police department and from what the commenters familiar with the area were saying, not even a grocery store. I think you need to look at functional density before you define somewhere as a “place”. It may be the densest census quirk but not much of a “place”. It reminds me of Mattawa being called the densest town in Washington because the city limits don’t include the HS, the church or any of the surrounding “suburbs”.

    1. Didn’t express the math right. 0.06 sq mi is a 1/4 mile square (i.e. a square that measures 0.25 mi on each side). That’s actually 1/16 of a full section (~40 acres). I think the comparison to square blocks is correct.

      1. But it’s a pointless comparison. According to Wikipedia Mattawa has”843 housing units at an average density of 1,139.2 per square mile” (<500 acres). Contrast that with say the Barvern in DT Bellevue which has 500 residences and sits on half of one super block(~5 acres). That works out to 64,000 units per square mile. And with 300,000 sq ft or retail it likely exceeds all of Mattawa. Mattawa is like 40 miles from the nearest hospital? I think you have to look at things like that to define a "community" before "density" really has any sort of comparable meaning.

        A List of United States cities by population density is full of “corner cases”. The majority of the places listed are smaller than a decent size city park. Rather telling though is the only mention of Washington State is Seattle and only then because it’s a list by State so somewhere in Washington had to make this list. I think it’s plainly obvious that NYC is the densest American city; 4 of the 5 boroughs exceed 20,000/sq mi. and even Staten Island has significantly higher density than Seattle. And San Francisco is a rather distant second at 17,000/sq mi.

      2. I agree Bernie. That is why (as I said in the other comment) that you really need to look at the map. Of course there will be edge cases, even then. But it gives you a very good overall picture of what the area is like (unlike simply numbers).

      3. I should have said I agree with everything except the part about San Fransisco versus Staten Island. As you can see ( versus San Fransisco has way more density. San Fransisco resembles Brooklyn more than Staten Island (which makes sense, given the similar architecture — lots of row houses with multiple families living in each one). Staten Island is similar to Oakland (not in character, necessarily, but in population). I would say that while the maps give the full breakdown, this summary of various cities is pretty darn good:

      4. Ross, we’re on the same page. I was unclear regarding Staten Island. Clearly it’s nowhere close to S.F. in density. The point I was trying to make was that, from the numbers, it appears to be more dense than Seattle. S.F. is a distant 2nd to NYC taken as a “whole”. More important than the 3rd decimal point in numbers is how you can relate in real world experience. I have only visited NYC once as an adult. My friend there lives in Osyster Bay Lang Eye-land. I loved Long Island. Roughly speaking it’s the size oas King County but has a significantly higher density “score”; about the same density as the city of Seattle. But it didn’t feel “asses to elbows” to me which I think is a sign of decent land use planning/luck. Staten Island is, roughly speaking, the size of Seattle but has a density of 8k/sqmi. vs 6k/sqmi for Seattle. I’d have to actually visit there to see what those numbers really mean. As a personal point of reference, Vashon + Bainbridge seem to roughly approximate the “size” of Staten Island. Vashon and Whidbey have roughly the same overall density. Roughly speaking, the numbers say Bainbridge is twice as dense as Vashon and Whidbey which sort of agrees with my experience of visiting those locations. I guess what I’m saying is the the “user experience” is what matters and that very much depends on where you draw the lines.

      5. This is a good example of why it makes a lot more sense to look at the map. You simply can’t summarize the density of either Seattle or Staten Island in a sentence. From a high end perspective, they are similar. There are very few places of really high density (blocks with over 100,000 people per square mile or ppsm). There are a couple dozen places with density between 25,000 and 100,000 ppsm. But in the 10,000 to 25,000 range, Staten Island has Seattle beat. There are just a lot more of those areas. Staten Island does have some low density areas, but nothing like Seattle. Much of the north end of Seattle as well as greater West Seattle and even Rainier Valley is like this. From an architectural standpoint, it isn’t that hard to guess why. Staten Island has been around a while. The lots are smaller and follow a traditional grid. It may be suburban, but it is old suburban. Much of Seattle is the same way, which is why there are plenty of neighborhoods that have similar density, even though they aren’t known for apartments (e. g. Wallingford). But other areas (like Windermere, Broadview, West Magnolia, Seaview) were built later, and had bigger lots. Some of the areas outside the old city limits have the biggest extremes, as the housing lots are bigger, but that is where they often allow new apartments.

        A quick Google Satellite view confirms this. This is an area of about 12,000 ppsm: It is that way for miles, as it is part of a large residential strip. This is a similar area, with similar density in Seattle: You will find an old small apartment tucked in here and there, but in general it is just houses with one family living in it. But the houses have much smaller lots than, say, here:

        Worth mentioning of course is that the maps are out of date. This probably doesn’t matter that much with Staten Island, but it makes a big difference for Seattle. Areas that were somewhat industrial, and thus low density have suddenly leap-frogged everything. South Lake Union and Ballard are like that. Other areas that had pockets of high density have seen that area grow considerably (UW and Lower Queen Anne) while places with moderate density are probably fairly high by now (I’m thinking Roosevelt and maybe Greenwood).

        So it is possible that Seattle actually has significantly more moderately high density areas, while still having far more low density areas, due to its huge growth spurt and zoning restrictions. If they loosened up the zoning on the low end (e. g. allowed more ADUs) then we might be able to catch up in that regard as well. This would make a big difference for transit. Having more wide spread density makes it much easier to create a good transit grid. Right now there are plenty of places that are “on the way” but have very few people. This makes it tough to justify better frequency or a better grid.

      6. By the way, while I like the ArcGis map, it is a shame that you can’t toggle between that view and Google maps. When you do make the comparison, it is easy to see how many places have very high density, but lack big apartment buildings. Much of Brooklyn is like that. There are neighborhoods with nothing but brownstone houses (no taller than what is allowed for a single family house in Seattle) yet they manage to pack in as many people as anywhere in Seattle. That is because the houses are right next to each other, and are split into apartments. Height does not equal density.

    2. As a former resident of Friendship Village, Geico HQ is across the street from the Willard Ave. border. It is all condos and apartment buildings, save for one or two houses from people who refused to move or were tied to the developer, IIRC.

    1. Hoboken, all 1.28 sq mi of it comes in at 39,000, well below the 70,000 in Manhatten. About on par with Brooklyn which has a land area almost the size of Seattle. But it’s a Big Apple and orange comparison.

    2. Hoboken is more densely populated than New York City, but not Manhattan (from what I can tell). This again is a statistical anomaly, which is the point of the video*. Once you include an entire city (or census designated area) you are bound to get anomalies. New York City has a lot of parkland, while Hoboken doesn’t. Oh, and Hoboken is actually fourth in New Jersey and thus fourth in the U. S. (New Jersey dominates this category the way that Norway dominates cross country skiing). The whole point is, you need to look at things on a more granular level, such as looking at census blocks. Looking at the map (, there really aren’t that many extremely dense areas in Hoboken. There is a block with 167,000 though, which is very dense. But there are several in Manhattan over 200,000 (I didn’t click them all — too much work). The point is, while there are plenty of people packed together in New Jersey, it is obvious after looking at that map that the big density lies east of the Hudson. Its not just Manhattan, either. The other boroughs have more areas of heavy density (with the exception of Staten Island, which resemble a New Jersey suburb). Oh, and New Jersey also has the highest population density of any state, with Rhode Island second.

      That is why he kind of buries the lead here, by casually mentioning the census block in Chicago that has the most people. But even that is misleading, since one city block with lots of people does not a big city make. Those blocks, or tracts, or census designated areas are all arbitrary. It matters where you draw the line. But if you draw the line relatively small, and then look at a map of the data, it is far more insightful than raw numbers. Chicago is very densely populated (it isn’t just that one block). L. A. is surprisingly densely populated (all over). Phoenix is very low density (all over).

      * I don’t understand why they create videos like this. Was there anything in this video that was more revealing than a simple essay? I get why people make videos for various topics — it can be very helpful. But this just seems like someone making a video because they think they are cute (in a nerdy kind of way).

    3. “I don’t understand why they create videos like this.”

      I saw this video earlier and thought the same thing. The author’s other videos are better. I guess he thought the quirk would be interesting, and he misjudged how much interest there is in real density information and how much disappointment there would be to find out this was pseudo-density.

      Nobody cares about quirks of the census tracts. What people want to know is, “Does this city have more area that’s at least as dense as [insert target neighorhood].” I want to know whether a city has neighborhoods like the U-District and Capitol Hill where you can meet almost all your needs in and rarely have to leave, or only leave for work. I noticed that when I lived in the dorms at the U and later in the U-District. When I moved from Bellevue I thought, “How can you live without department stores and places like Fred Meyer?” because that’s where my parents always went. But after a year I found that I only had to go to Northgate once or twice a year for things like towels or clothes the U-District doesn’t have. I thought it didn’t have hardware stores either, but I later realized it has two hardware stores that I’d never noticed, and other people seem not to notice them too. So when I went to San Diego and San Jose and Dallas I looked for neighborhoods like that that I might want to live in, and got frustrated that I couldn’t find any. Most of the density stats you see are average density, which doesn’t tell you that. I don’t care whether Seattle’s average density is like Wallingford; I want to know whether it has places like the U-District, and I don’t want an average density based partly on Magnolia and Broadmoor, which are irrelevant to me. What we need is population-weighted density, which tells you whether the city has a lot of area like Manhattan or Brooklyn. The quirks of census tracks add a third issue, because you can partly rely on them like RossB’s analysis of Lake City, and census-designated places that are a real unincorporated community, but you can’t rely on them for nonsense like the one in this video. People don’t live in one apartment building in isolation; they live in a community that includes ths surrounding neighborhood that they go to to shop and for activities, so isolating one untypical part of that leads to nonsense results.

      1. U-District doesn’t have. I thought it didn’t have hardware stores either, but I later realized it has two hardware stores that I’d never noticed

        Stumbling around the U-District a couple years ago while seeking health care I saw one of these stores. I was amazed that they had cool stuff the Ace Hdwr in Bridle Trails didn’t carry. Those nuggets are what makes/breaks a neighborhood. OK, not necessarily a hdwr store but “fill in the blank” what you’re interested in. What “I” think makes a great city is that sort of diversity. Packing it all in together in different neighborhoods is, in my opinion… what make a great city. Does that hardware store(s) still exist after ST came in and bulldozed existing quirkiness?

      2. I have no problem with the subject matter, nor the writing. The problem I have is that it is a *video*. Just write an essay. You can add pretty pictures as well, if you want, but I don’t see how anything is gained *in this instance* by having a guy talk to me. I can read a lot faster than he can talk, and I can go back easily to parts that require extra emphasis (such as terminology, which is easily confused and forgotten).

        Of course I have the same problem with Ted Talks and lectures in general. Just send me the article, hopefully edited and published in a well respected journal. There are a few instances where videos make sense, and that is where you have insight based on action. This is common in sports and it really does make it much easier to follow what the analyst is saying: But this makes sense, given the fundamental nature of sports (it is based on movement). Likewise with learning a new skill, whether it be woodworking or skiing — video can be a really helpful tool.

        But if a guy is basically just standing there talking, nothing is added. He might have a nice analogy (pizza) as well as occasional pictures, but that can all be done as an essay. Even a largely written essay can have video interspersed, as is common for sports analysis (

        I could see a similar approach taken for say, blocking the box in Seattle, or how the E now has to leave the bus lanes early southbound towards downtown. There are plenty of transit/urban planning issues that can make for insightful videos. This just isn’t one of them.

      3. >> Does that hardware store(s) still exist after ST came in and bulldozed existing quirkiness?

        Both the Ace Hardware store on the Ave ( and the Hardwick and Sons store on Roosevelt ( were both there last time I checked (within the last six months). The latter really is a gem. I think it is somewhat of a tourist destination (and rightly so in my opinion).

      4. Hardwick’s is great. Went there far too many years ago to mention when I was in architecture school – they had the greatest supplies for model making, including some interesting Japanese hand saws and other things you wouldn’t find anywhere else. I’m glad to see they are still there.

    4. Another thing like hardware stores is small grocery stores. I learned that small supermarkets like Central Co-Op and a sadly-departed Vietnamese store at 12th & Jackson (the owner retired) have a full variety of items; the just have one or two of each kind rather than a dozen. I went to Central Co-Op for cranberry sauce thinking they probably wouldn’t have it, but they had a couple cans. (They must order one can for each one that’s sold.) Conversely I went to Fred Meyer for vanilla ice cream and counted thirty varieties, with some brands having as many as three or four. What’s the difference between Vanilla, Vanilla Bean, French Vanilla, Double Vanilla, Natural Vanilla, Homemade Vanilla, Old-Fashioned Vanilla, Slow-Churned Vanilla, ayayay! And all but one had high-fructose corn syrup. I ended up going with the one without HFCS. Another time I went with the one with the fewest ingredients.

    5. By the way, the original supermarkets were even smaller than that; they were the size of convenience stores.

  2. Every state has different rules that govern geography and municipal boundaries. For example, several East Coast states have divided up every parcel into cities and towns so that annexation is not possible. In Virginia, cities are considered outside of their surrounding counties. Many states have restrictive annexation laws that create very odd boundaries with donut holes for those that don’t want to be annexed. Others have tentacles for different reasons. Finally, taxing districts for a limited function may or may not evolve into communities enough to merit identification.

    That poses a bit of a problem for the Census, who tries to have uniform definitions. That is why Census Tracts should be the main format for analysis. All other local geography is politically super-imposed and interesting (like this situation) but not particularly comparable and sometimes not logical.

    1. Census Tracts don’t change, which is important for comparison or historical trends. But cities/villages/etc. morph all the time. What’s important is comparing like to like. For example it makes no sense to include an airport in talking about residential density regardless of where the Census Tract border happens to lie. Another interesting factoid making life hard for the Census Bureau is Honolulu. It, like San Francisco is also a county. However, in the case of Honolulu the county encompasses the entire island of Oahu. So the “city” is a census designated place.

  3. The densest place in the US is the three square feet where I currently sit. Within that boundary, there’s a density of over nine MILLION people per square mile!

  4. How do the night owl buses behave when we move in or out of daylight savings time? Do buses warp at 2 AM to where they’re supposed to be at 3 AM?

    For anyone that rides the bus at that hour, guessing wrong on buses that run at night-owl frequencies is not going to be pleasant.

    1. There’s a service gap between the last Night Owls and the first morning’s run. Metro and ST’s clocks change in that gap. No Night Owl run is impacted, precisely to try and avoid the issue you describe. I cannot speak for any other mass transit agencies.

    1. Somehow I doubt that. Dorms have similar sleeping quarters, and tend to be taller, and packed in tighter. Residential towers in big cities are much taller, and while they have bigger apartments, people often share them just because rent is so expensive.

      Anyway, prison population being counted in the census is a real problem:

  5. They are removing the big red crane at the Roosevelt Station starting today. Does anyone know the schedule for reopening 66th and 67th through the current construction site?

    Opening those two streets will mean that major station construction at the site is complete. Then the final push will be on to get the line complete, tested, and open.

    It will be great to get this line open, get more bus routes repurposed as feeders, and get fewer buses running on downtown surface streets (assuming metro “gets it” of course). Such an eventually is in line with DSA long range plans calling for fewer downtown buses, and it will be a great day when it finally starts to happen.

    1. I agree. Northgate Link is a huge improvement in the system. If you consider it the second part of U-Link, then it is the probably the biggest rail improvement we will ever make or have ever made (the downtown tunnel doesn’t count, as it was originally built for buses). It would have been better with a stop at First Hill, of course, but it still will represent a huge improvement for many riders over what is available today. Someone from Northgate trying to get to Capitol Hill, for example, will shave 30 minutes off their trip — at noon. The trip will take about one quarter the time, often making it faster than calling a cab, and faster than dealing with parking. Savings during rush hour — either direction — will be greater. Traffic southbound from Northgate is often terrible at 3:00 PM (worse than it is northbound) which means that riders have to choose between the slog to downtown (via the 41, now worse than ever because of the convention center expansion) or the seemingly confused 67 (which goes north before going south) along with the transfer from hell at the UW station. Northgate Link will change the way that a lot of people view transit in this city (just as U-Link did).

      Getting rid of some of the buses downtown is just a side benefit. It isn’t clear how many buses will be truncated. My guess is Metro will truncate the obvious ones — the buses that get on the freeway at Northgate or places south (41, 74, 76, 77, 316). The 63 and 64 might be truncated or modified (although with no First Hill station, it is hard to say). The 522 will be sent to Roosevelt or Northgate (probably the former). What isn’t clear is whether the buses that are on the freeway north of Northgate will exit and terminate at Northgate transit center. I’ve argued before that they should, but it is hard to tell what will happen. Most of those buses are being operated by Sound Transit or Community Transit, but Metro still has a few (301, 303, 304, 308). But in general, the big decision making will be made by ST and CT, not Metro.

      Reducing the buses downtown should help ease bus congestion downtown. Ironically, agencies that don’t truncate may benefit by sticking with their express buses. For example, if Metro truncates all of its I-5 buses, then Community transit express buses will run faster downtown or could move to a more convenient location. But again, that assumes that Community Transit doesn’t truncate.

      While many riders will have a faster ride to downtown with the truncation, some won’t. But the big benefit are for those headed to places along the way (Northgate, Roosevelt, the UW, etc.) along with whatever restructure and added frequency comes with the changes. Community Transit could save a huge amount of time by truncating at Northgate, which would allow them to send more expresses there, or create better service within Snohomish County. The north end of Seattle could see not only improved frequency, but a better network, which will greatly improve travel within the area. The stations at 130th and 145th will be even better in that regard, since Northgate Station is very cumbersome from a network standpoint (you can’t go east or west from the station, and even north-south travel is poor). Despite that weakness, Northgate Link will be a huge improvement in the system.

    2. “fewer buses running on downtown surface streets (assuming metro “gets it” of course)”

      It will happen. The restructures since 2012 have been more complete than the ones before then. They mostly get through with only a few route changes withdrawn.In the U-Link restructure that was the 71 shuttle, the 11 and 12, and the 2, 3, and 4.

      The 71 shuttle was a political veto by the county council, like the bad old days. But look at what did happen: the 71, 72, 73, and 66 no longer go downtown. I didn’t think Metro would even propose that because of the gap between the U-District and UW Station, but Metro did propose it and went through with it.

      The 2 is the route that gets the most people protesting whenever Metro tries to modify it, as it has done at least three times unsuccessfully (in 2012, 2014, and 2016). The 12 gets the second-most opposition. So it’s not surprising that those would be withdrawn first.

      The 11 is a more difficult issue because all the alternatives had significant tradeoffs. Changing the 11 requires cascading changes on the 10, 12, and 49 to fill gaps it would create, and even then some gaps would have remained. None of these alternatives was clearly better than the status quo. So with the 12 activists loud, Metro withdrew the 11 changes.

      One of Metro’s proposals would have made the 11 an all-Madison route. That would obviate the high-ridership part of the 12 but leave the 19th Avenue tail where the activists are loud. An all-Madison route breaks the well-used connection between mid Madison and southwest Capitol Hill, and dumps people at 3rd & Madison rather than the Westlake area where most of the shopping and bus transfers are. Metro was against an all-Madison route for that reason, but Seattle basically strong-armed it by saying “We’re going to build Madison BRT anyway”, and then the city asked for an all-Madison route to prebuild that corridor. So Metro proposed it, and it wasn’t that popular. Madison RapidRide will have more to say for itself because it will be full-time frequent and significantly faster than the current 12, which gets bogged down in the turns around I-5. Another Metro proposal was to move the 49 to Broadway-Madison. Others involved the 2, to move it to Madison. None of those were clearly better than the status quo, so Metro kept the status quo. One of the gaps was between mid Madison (Trader Joe’s) and southwest Capitol Hill (all the clubs and shopping). Metro’s long-range plan for Madison RR is to move the 2 to Pine-12th-Union to try to serve both those corridors.

      The 3 and 4 restructures failed because of minor concerns about the 4S’s tail, but mostly because it got caught up in the 2 debacle, so Metro just withdrew all changes to the 2, 3, and 4 for rethinking. Earlier there were objections to rerouting the 3 and 4 on Queen Anne, so they weren’t restructured in 2012, but since then they have happened and all of the 3, 4, and 13 now go together to Seattle Pacific.

      The Eastside U-Link restructure was withdrawn in its entirety because Metro felt it hadn’t gotten enough feedback to be sure about the impacts. It’s probably harder to outreach to Eastsiders because fewer of them are engaged with the transit network than Seattlites are. And the Eastside’s transit is a quantum level more awful so they were even more desperate not to lose what they had. The current plan that will be implemented in September truncates the 255 but leaves the peak expresses intact, while also changing local routes on the Eastside and a couple Sound Transit routes. This reflects a strategic decision by Metro that was also evident in the U-Link restructure: truncate/restructure all-day routes for the emerging network but leave the peak expresses alone until the Link extensions open. The greatest anger comes from truncating peak expresses because a large number of people see that as a direct threat to themselves (because time is money and time spent on the bus is time they can’t spend working or with their family). The peak commuters are essentially a “union” of riders, with a lot of clout.

      However, the full-time frequent service on RapidRide and several Seattle routes has been a game-changer. People are starting to appreciate full-time frequent routes and seeing them as beneficial, and that makes them less wedded to their status-quo routes. There are still status-quo activists but they’re not as strong as they used to be. Their propping up of the peak expresses until Northgate Link and East Link open is probably their last gasp of major power. And that’s why the Metro Connects restructures will probably mostly go through.

      Of course, keep in mind that it was only a preliminary plan, so some adjustments for the better will probably occur. And some of the ideas in it seem a bit far-fetched, so they may be withdrawn or disappear in a recession. (My guess, the Harrison-Aloha routes, the Revenge of the 25, maybe the Route Between the Fred Meyers [Ballard-Lake City].) Expect modified proposals later, but still substantial.

      1. You mentioned some routes that I got nostalgic about last week.

        I was thinking how often I used to go downtown. Not just for work, but for pleasure. There were days I would even bus to northern u-dist after work downtown, eat and rest, and then hop on a bus and head back downtown to attend a show at the Paramount. That doesn’t happen anymore. I miss that quick access to downtown. Going to movies at SIFF Uptown? No longer worth the time.

        I realize that current Link has opened up all sorts of new opportunities, and future Link will provide even more of those. But this transition period isn’t fun at all.

  6. LOL, I used to live there before moving here (and still own a condo there, that is now available for rent)

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