Redmond has grown 31% since 2010 (image by author)

Seattle added 11,440 residents in the year ended last July, faster growth than any other city outside the sunbelt, and enough to make Seattle America’s fastest growing large city since 2010. But that is still the fewest residents Seattle has added any year this decade, and a halving of the peak growth seen in 2016. Meanwhile, the Eastside has accelerated with more growth just as Seattle has been slowing. There’s been a shift too from King County to neighboring suburban counties. Seattle metro area growth has begun to resemble the more typical suburban pattern elsewhere in the country.

Redmond and Seattle lead

Growth rates over the decade, and in 2019 (chart by author, click to enlarge)

Seattle remains exceptional. The largest American cities are not, collectively, growing at all. The ten cities with more than one million population collectively lost residents in 2019. New York has 132 thousand fewer residents than at its 2016 peak. San Jose and Chicago also shrank last year; Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia, San Diego, and Dallas all saw fewer than 2,000 new residents each. The narrative of a broad return to large cities looked solid earlier in the decade, but has taken a beating in the last few years. American growth is once again mostly suburban. What you’ve experienced in Seattle this decade is not the norm, and Seattle is showing some evidence of the same shift to the suburbs.

The growth rankings for the decade show Redmond as the fastest growing local city (of those with at least 50 thousand residents). Seattle has outpaced every other significant city. Because it’s so much larger, Seattle has of course added the greatest number of residents.

The narrative around local growth has shifted in several important ways. More charts after the jump.

Eastside picks up, South King slows

The Eastside is growing faster even as Seattle has slowed, and other parts of King County hardly growing at all (chart by author, click to enlarge)

Looking across King County, the last two years have seen a substantial shift to the Eastside (in this chart, the cities from Mercer Island to Issaquah to Bothell).

Data on local employment lags, but major Eastside firms are doing well and there’s a booming commercial development pipeline in Bellevue. Amazon, a key contributor to the Seattle boom, has shifted focus away from Seattle to Bellevue though it’s still adding employees in both cities. It’s likely the Eastside is adding jobs faster than Seattle.

South King County is hardly growing at all. This complicates any story about the local suburbanization of poverty. Renton, Burien, Federal Way, and Burien all lost population last year. If South King isn’t growing, where are the displaced being displaced to?

Neighboring counties outpacing King

King County has shifted from fastest to slowest growing local county in the last four years (chart by author, click to enlarge)

National data suggests a turning point about 2016, when growth turned more suburban. This is mirrored in local patterns. King County led its suburban neighbors through 2015. Since then, it switched abruptly to being the slowest growing county. Meanwhile, large counties elsewhere in Washington state have seen continued rapid growth, with Spokane and Clark counties also adding residents at a faster pace.

Domestic migration, on-net, is outwards from King County

Components of growth: More King County residents moving to elsewhere in the US than moving in last year (chart by author, click to enlarge)

What’s behind King slowing relative to its neighbors? One clue is in the components of growth data. King County’s growth is much more dependent on immigration from overseas, and has relied much less on domestic immigration over the decade. Last year, that actually flipped negative, with more residents moving out of King County to other parts of the US than moving in.

That seems to be a trend of King County residents moving to other parts of the state, mostly nearby counties where housing is more affordable. We first noticed clues in the 2016 census. Applications in King County for new drivers licenses from out of state grew while net migration at the county level slowed. The numbers would differ when people are moving between counties within the state. As King County slowed that year, growth began to accelerate in more affordable housing markets in Snohomish and Pierce counties.

64 Replies to “Seattle’s growth slows again as Eastside grows faster”

  1. This pandemic forces transit planners into new ways of thinking about both population growth and employment. There never has been 25% unemployment around here until now. Moreover, the PSRC’s growth centers used to be where the jobs were concentrated and where new offices for new employees would be concentrated — remote working gutted that model. In broad terms, too much transit capacity exists to serve the growth centers, and not enough is deployed to serve the unemployed outside the growth centers. Those are big imbalances that will persist because of prior policies.

    1. In fairness to our officials, Amazon and Microsoft were telling them they would need 10s of thousands of employees at their offices each workday, and nobody could have foreseen both WFH adoption and really high unemployment in urban centers happening so quickly in 2020.

    2. Abandoning the growth centers means abandoning density and going back to sprawl. The cities are still channeling growth to those growth centers and not upzoning elsewhere. Unemployment will not remain at 25% for more than a couple years or at most ten. The Great Depression bottomed out in seven years. You can’t assume long-term trends for telework based on two months of experience.

      Even if the growth centers don’t move their development can take different shapes. If there’s less demand for offices but more demand for housing (with an extra room for a home office), then different buildings will be built. We need a lot more public/subsidized housing for the lower-income, and it can go into those growth centers. The cities want their growth there. Kirkland wants it in Totem Lake so it doesn’t change the character of downtown Kirkland. That’s not likely to change. If the growth is less, well, development will be less.

      If a large number of people are unemployed or teleworking, the massive commuting peaks will be lower. That would be better all around for transit. Fewer buses would be needed, fewer gallons of diesel burned in congestion, more potential frequency for the same cost. We’d still need a light rail core (avoiding the word “spine”) between Seattle, Lynnwood, Redmond, and Kent-Des Moines, and 405 Stride and 522 Stride — just for basic circulation. Opinions differ on Everett, Federal Way, Tacoma, and Issaquah Link.

      If people aren’t working, they travel less, and it doesn’t have to be at specific times as much. And with your concern about the in-between areas, that suggests that boosting local bus frequencies would be the most effective. That would be easy if peak demand decreases, because peak service and peak expresses cost significantly more to deliver than local service. And the issue off-peak isn’t so much capacity as frequency. There are empty bus seats ready to be filled; they just aren’t at the right times. Or there’s no easy way to get from A to B without a 20-minute transfer or hour-long ride or mile-long walk. The county voted down the last two Metro measures that would have improved in-between service in the suburbs. But if the peaks decreased, that would free up money for more off-peak service for free.

      1. Unemployment will not remain at 25% for more than a couple years or at most ten. The Great Depression bottomed out in seven years. You can’t assume long-term trends for telework based on two months of experience.

        Hopefully similar to the Great Depression, we’ll realize that our country is not actually broke, but rather we’ve just allowed our wealth to accumulate in places that are not conducive to a functioning country/economy and need to put that wealth to good use.

      2. I don’t believe the 25% number is representative of the way we were previously using the numbers. After the great recession unemployment dropped simply because people “timed out” on the official statistics. Many decided it was time to retire, some became professional bums, many others found work in the un-tracked cash economy. I know restaurant workers that are unemployed now but with benefits and income from “the gig” economy are making more than when they were employed. Not saying there isn’t a huge number of people that aren’t able to go in to work right now but there’s big difference between getting laid off and waiting for the bars, salons, gyms, etc. to reopen. The key is reopening before vast numbers of the small business owners fail.

  2. Nice article, but the headline is misleading, it not completely false. As you wrote in this article:

    Seattle has of course added the greatest number of residents.

    That means that Seattle has grown the fastest. It really doesn’t matter how big it was before — that is a meaningless number, that will of course make areas that have very few people look like they are growing faster. A small town has an LDS family move in, and suddenly the population doubles. That doesn’t mean that it is growing anywhere near as fast as Seattle.

    Put it another way. Let’s say you have a couple kids. One grows five inches, and the other four. Which kid is growing faster? I say the kid who grew five inches. It doesn’t matter how tall they were before the growth spurt.

    If you want to look at increased density, then by all means, consider the physical area. But that requires a bit more work — something I may attempt in a bit. But my guess it appears that once again, not only is Seattle adding more people than any other city, but increasing density faster than everyone (although Redmond may have passed it).

    1. OK, my apologies. I just realized there are two ways to interpret the headline. One is that the East Side is growing faster, the other is that the East Side is growing faster than Seattle. The former is definitely true, while the latter, from what I can tell from the graph — is not. It looks like they are both growing about the same (adding about 10,000 people per year).

      1. Growth compared to physical size is important — that is what I label increased density. For example, Seattle grew by about 2 people per square mile since 2010.

        But growth rate relative to existing population is meaningless. Percentage increases simply require additional math (to get the absolute increase). Absolute growth (number of people added) — as well as physical land mass — are the only two things that matter.

      2. OK, I shouldn’t say they are the only two things that matter. Existing density matters as well. But my point is percentage growth is meaningless without context (i. e. how much population there was before).

      3. Growth rate relative to existing population is not meaningless, existing population provides the context of capacity growth. Both ‘actual increase’ and ‘percentage increase’ provide important insights and should be compared against each to provide context.

      4. Growth rate relative to existing population is not meaningless, existing population provides the context of capacity growth. Both ‘actual increase’ and ‘percentage increase’ provide important insights and should be compared against each to provide context.

        OK, meaningless is harsh — but it leads to very little insight. The capacity for growth is independent of the existing population. If anything, you are more likely to have growth where populations are low, not high. That is the trend throughout the country.

        If you have to qualify percentages with absolute number, then why bother with percentages? Just list the existing population and the growth. The point is, if you are going to list one number, then it should be absolute growth.

        At best, percentage growth is a proxy for physical size. But it is a bad one, as I’ve written about below. It is much easier to just list the physical size, along with the amount of growth. Put it this way — if you read this chart (https://s3.amazonaws.com/stb-wp/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/24212112/Growth_Rankings.png) you would think that Redmond is the fastest growing city in Puget Sound this decade. It isn’t. Nor it is even close. Seattle is the fastest growing city. Even if several of the suburban cities combined so that they had more physical space than Seattle, their population growth would be much lower. That is because areas like Marysville — third in percentage — didn’t add that many people. It just started with a lot fewer.

      5. One way in which percentage growth is meaningful is in determining the impact on the available infrastructure. I could imagine situations in which growth of some small town (for example Marysville) is high enough that the impact on their infrastructure is significant, even though in absolute numbers it is tiny compared to say growth in Seattle.

        This is likely not as big an issue for transit (the ostensible topic of this blog), but even there, I could imagine it being so. Requiring a doubling of transit capacity is going to impact a city much more significantly than requiring a 10% increase, I think. Now, having said that, yes, in terms of optimizing for taking care of most people’s needs, clearly the larger cities will have the biggest impact, but it is useful (and I think “morally right”) to consider more than that.

      6. One way in which percentage growth is meaningful is in determining the impact on the available infrastructure. I could imagine situations in which growth of some small town (for example Marysville) is high enough that the impact on their infrastructure is significant, even though in absolute numbers it is tiny compared to say growth in Seattle.

        Sorry, but I don’t buy it. From 1970 to 1980, Marysville grew 17%. From 2010 to now, it grew about the same. That suggests the impacts are similar. They aren’t. In the 70s, Marysville added 700 people. This decade, they added 10,000. In every way, this impacted the environment more. Lots more land converted from farms to housing. Lots more roads, and other infrastructure. Lots more concerns about water runoff, or sewage.

        You are trying to tease out the nature of the growth, but that is very difficult. At a minimum, you would want to look at growth per area (i. e. density increase) while also looking at existing density. Basically a before and after view of an area. Seattle started out reasonably dense and got denser. Marysville started out with low density and got denser. Therefore, Seattle probably added more apartments, and Marysville probably just sprawled some more.

        Even then it is challenging — it is very difficult to determine the nature of growth, just by looking at a set of numbers for a large area. You would need to look at things track by track. For example, Redmond grew largely by adding new apartments (not by sprawl). Yet as a city, it is still low density (which means you could guess the opposite).

        Then there are also examples of cities that shrink, then grow again. From 1980 to 2000, Seattle grew about 15%. Yet it basically just went back to the same population it had in 1960. That new growth had very little impact on the infrastructure or the environment — unlike Marysville. A place like Bremerton, for example, could probably double in size and it would have far less impact on the environment than if Marysville continues to sprawl. That is because Bremerton would likely convert industrial land to apartments (like Brooklyn did) and not just convert farms to subdivisions.

        Then there are unincorporated areas. For whatever reason, Dan didn’t include any data for those areas. I find this baffling. I am a big fan of Dan’s writing, but I think he fell into the “percentages trap”. This is common when it comes to growth. A list of the “fastest growing cities” always includes an arbitrary cutoff (typically 50,000). Thus you end up with lists like this: https://www.quickenloans.com/learn/fastest-growing-cities-in-us. First on the list, Buckeye City, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix. The population — like many on this list — is between 50,000 and 100,000. There are plenty of areas that are growing in a similar manner — sprawling with new development — it is just that the arbitrary lines drawn for the suburb don’t include enough land to reach that 50,000 person threshold. Every “city” on that percentage growth list is a suburb, and most are a bit over 50,000. If parts of unincorporated Puget Sound became a “city”, then it would qualify as well. That is because nothing increases the percentage growth like greenfield development. Of course not. You have at most a few farming families — then you have hundreds of houses.

        This is important. I want to know how much sprawl is going on as well. The problem is, percentages are practically useless in that regard. On the other hand, looking at density before and after — even for large swaths — would at least give a clue as to what is going on.

    2. Alright, some quick math about added density. The East Side suburbs have a lot more land than Seattle. Since both areas added about the same number of people, Seattle continued its streak of adding density faster than the East Side. Seattle also started out with more density. When it comes to transit, population density is very important, and the relationship is not linear, it is exponential. If a thousand people move into an acre that already has a thousand people, that is good for transit. But it is even better is they move into an area with two thousand people. Thus from a transit perspective things are going well, as the area that has the largest density — Seattle — saw the biggest increase in density. This occurred even last year, a year that was by no means the best for Seattle.

      From what I can gather, of the various cities, Redmond added the most density last year. Seattle added about three times as many people, but Seattle is five times as big. Kirkland was second, although it just barely beats out Seattle. So last year, Seattle was not the leader — Redmond was — but it came in third. In general, this is also likely good for transit, as those cities (unlike, say, Sammamish) had some density to begin with.

      Since 2010, Seattle has added the most density. About 150,000 have moved into the city. Redmond (likely second) added 18,000. Bellevue added 26,000. Seattle is bigger than those cities, but not that much bigger. Note: Kirkland is a bit confusing (since they annexed some areas) but otherwise it would lag Redmond.

      But these are all broad brushes. Large labels like “Seattle” and “East Side” can be misleading. The East Side is not growing uniformly, nor is Seattle. I’m sure that if you treated various neighborhoods in Seattle like cities, their increased density would greatly exceed that of any East Side city. You could do the same thing on the East Side (the “Spring District City” is growing fast). You would need to look at things from a census block standpoint, and that won’t happen for a while.

      1. “faster” has more meanings here than I intended.

        Faster than before? Obviously yes.

        Faster in percentage terms than Seattle? 2.23% in 2019 vs 1.54%. So yes.

        Faster in absolute terms? The nine cities I somewhat arbitrarily used as a proxy for the ‘Eastside’ added 11,300 residents vs 11,440. So not quite. But add some of the small cities I didn’t bother with, or a sliver of the unincorporated area east of the cities, never mind the eastside-oriented communities just beyond the south snohomish line, then it would be a yes on that count too.

        Faster vs land area. No. That one hadn’t occurred to me, tbh. I’m less persuaded that it’s very useful, partly because it’s so much more sensitive to arbitrary boundary-drawing. But RossB is correct that the Eastside isn’t adding peeps per acre as fast as Seattle.

      2. I’m less persuaded that [growth by area] is very useful, partly because it’s so much more sensitive to arbitrary boundary-drawing.

        But that is true for all areas. The point is, the worst measure is percentage. Consider this scenario:

        Anchorage grows by 10%
        San Fransisco grows by 5%

        If you didn’t know any better, you would assume that Anchorage is growing faster than San Fransisco. But you would be wrong. Completely, utterly wrong. This becomes obvious when you look at the following numbers:

        Anchorage grew by 30,000 people
        San Fransisco grew by 40,000 people

        What happened before is meaningless. There is no reason why a city with a million people should grow faster than a city with 100,000. If anything, it is the opposite. With lots of available land, you would expect a city with fewer people to grow faster. Which gets me to the next point.

        If you didn’t know any better, you would say that San Fransisco grew faster because it has more land. This is quite reasonable, as the larger the city (by population), the more likely it is to have lots of land. But again, you would be wrong in this case. Anchorage has 1,700 square miles, San Fransisco has 47 square miles.

        In this scenario, in every meaningful respect, San Fransisco is growing faster. Yet you are focused on a meaningless measure, and using it as a proxy for physical size — which is clearly not the case.

        The larger point is that the greater Seattle area is bucking the trend. In general, a very high percentage of the growth is happening in Seattle proper, and what isn’t is largely happening in relatively urban suburbs. If you look at the old census map, it was clear that Seattle is not like Phoenix — Seattle has a strong urban core, while Phoenix does not: https://arcg.is/1vOjjC. You can see that almost all of the density is within the city, along with some hot spots in nearby suburbs. Based on the report, this has only amplified. The map will still follow the exact same pattern, even if some of the areas will look a bit different (e. g. Ballard will have lots more people, as will Totem Lake, downtown Redmond, etc.). There has been sprawl, but not nearly as much as percentages imply.

  3. Do these growth rates include annexation? That often drives strong growth in the suburbs, when unincorporated land is absorbed into an existing city.

  4. “South King County is hardly growing at all. This complicates any story about the local suburbanization of poverty. Renton, Burien, Federal Way, and Burien all lost population last year. If South King isn’t growing, where are the displaced being displaced to?”

    From the neighboring county chart it looks like Pierce and Thurston are seeing higher growth. That would be my first guess.

    Some people with moderate incomes (easier to move if you have some money) are likely moving away entirely. I’m seeing this with childhood friends’ parents who stayed in Seattle even after their children departed for college or work, but now have recently moved: One to rural WA, one to the Midwest. Cashing out of a paid-off house can make up for an underfunded retirement account. I think a lot of people didn’t save much for retirement, but did pay their mortgages, and are now cash poor but house rich.

    1. I wonder if it’s also because some of these bedroom communities are shifting away from families. As Seattle becomes more unaffordable, many young people live farther away, whereas previously more would live ‘in the city’ and wouldn’t move out to a ‘burb until they had kiddos and valued the additional space. Also, people are simply having less kids, so as families cycle through bedroom communities the existing housing stock supports a slighly smaller population. This would show up in the data with decreasing household size in SKC.

      The same effect is presumably occurring on the east side, but it’s offset by a growing housing stock. This happened in the suburb where I grew up in the Midwest, where growth in the 1970s-2000s required rapid growth in the schools distict, but sometimes in the early 2000s the city kept growing but the school-age population stabilized, as families got smaller and most new housing was oriented towards working professionals rather than families (as my hometown transitioned from a bedroom community to a city)

      1. But the numbers don’t suggest that at all. Seattle is expensive. The East Side is expensive. Yet Seattle added the most people, followed by several East Side cities. By the charts, it looks like Seattle added more people than all the South Sound areas *combined*.

      2. I was speculating on why SKC suddenly decelerated. The households being displaced from Seattle to SKC may be smaller than the households they are replacing in SKC. That’s unrelated to the growth in Seattle, which I assume is driven by increase in number of households, not household size.

  5. I’m pretty sure it’s because of the homelessness, drugs, and less safe in Seattle. Moved here 4 yrs ago from the east coast and it has gotten so bad. Smells alot like New Orleans at this point. Eastside is cleaner, safer, and better schools

    [edited ‘Name’ to clarify this isn’t longtime contributor Sam. Recommend using a unique name if need to comment further).

    1. Based on that comment, you must live at 3rd and James and not wander much more than a half block from your home or your sole news source is Dori Monson.

      #seattleistiedying

    2. See, this is what I’m talking about. Sam clearly doesn’t understand the data. He thinks that the East Side is growing faster than Seattle, when that clearly isn’t the case. But if you look at meaningless percentages, you get that impression.

      Last year, Seattle added just about as many people as the entire East Side, even though the East Side has a lot more area. Seattle is adding lots of people — way more than any other city.

      Maybe if he attended better schools — like those in Seattle — Sam would understand this. But it would also be easier if the data was presented in a more meaningful manner (for the slow learners).

    3. The Sam above me is not me, the Sam that started reading the New York Times at the age of 2 and 1/2, and speaks 27 languages.

    4. You can’t draw any conclusions about the “why” from this from this data.

      A comparison of vacancy rates would be very illustrative. If there isn’t a place available to live, or if it isn’t available at a a price that mere mortals can afford, then there isn’t any choice.

    5. I moved here 6 years ago and I feel 1000% safer walking alone in Seattle than I ever did in Idaho or Texas. Redmond is similar, but not Bellevue. Same problems in Bellevue as my previous locales. I don’t have experience with the rest of the Eastside.

  6. OK, getting back to my point about data presentation, here is how I would do it:

    If you are going to have one table listing all the cities (like that first table) don’t list percentages, since they are largely meaningless and misleading. List the total number of people, like the second graph (the one labeled “King County Growth”).

    The other thing that is missing is population density. This can be misleading for an entire city, but it still gives a better look at things. It can be listed as density per square mile. In this case, you would probably have a couple tables. One would be just a year by year listing. For example, Redmond had 4,000 people per square mile in 2010, then it went up to 4,100, and jumped to 4,300 last year. The other would be the growth per square mile over the given period (300 people per square mile in this case). I think that would give a much better idea of what is actually happening in the region, and provide some interesting insight.

  7. In the fall of 2013, I de-boarded my airport train at Beacon Hill Station, as I returned from relocating the address of my wife’s ashes from my living room in Ballard to her final resting place, overlooked by an active Icelandic volcano called “Mt. Hekla.”

    My brother met me on the station stairs. “We’re all doing well, but you’re going to have to move.” No real surprise, though pretty sure the law agreed the notice was a shade short. Standard M.O. for the notifier.

    Still and all, in a pretty decent tribute to our feelings about Seattle, my fellow tenants and I invited developer John Goodman to a meeting at the Senior Center and offered to pool our money and buy back our homes at Ballard’s Lockhaven Apartments. Answer from one of his staff, not him: “Our business plan’s no business of yours.”

    Seattle? Our separation was joint “call” on the part of you and John. Nothing of mine. Notice and personal funds both being short, Olympia saved you both an additional homeless person. My tenure here? Month to month so best watch my mouth. Present description of my residence? My life’s dedicated to the transit system of the Central Puget Sound Region.

    On which Seattle will, with the exception of the Frye Art Museum, five good espresso places and a Turkish restaurant, remain a transit stop with prices as high as the service quality is bad.

    Wish fighter planes still did “Sonic Booms” like the Saber Jets of the 1950’s, because there’s a lot of vertically repulsive glass and steel spoiling the views of treasures like the King Street Station clock tower. And maybe saddest of all, two Cajun restaurants, one in Ballard, will never return.

    Wish the New Orleans health department would pick up their phone, because every time the wind swings around to the north east, the stink of bigotry coming off this morning’s comments chokes out the memory of Beignet’s (beyn-YEA’s), Crawfish Ettoufe, Gumbo, and Jambalaya like used to grace the culinary wind of my former home.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Laveau

    Well, Marie’s just answered my e-mail. Au Revoir, Sam.

    Mark Dublin

  8. Sam, as I’ve had constant cause to mention, main weakness of American English is how pathetic it is for invective. Which this morning places you at a colossal advantage!

    You can tell the World’s every Sam-Impostor to Go Get Bloody-Well Stuffed in twenty seven different references to entire species of animals, and twice that many loathsome incurable diseases!

    Wait a minute, e-mail from Marie Laveau….that’s exactly what she just this minute took care of! East side health department just flushed him down the bowl along with the rest of the spoiled Frog Etouffee she’d just turned him into.

    And not entirely snide…..might Sound Transit have a position for you as a translator? Anybody have any figures on number and name if languages our operations people speak?

    Mark Dublin

  9. Has Bainbridge Island ever figured into density calculations for the greater Seattle area? If not I can see a case to do so. Housing costs there are not as expensive as people assume and more and more families are moving there from Seattle. Good schools, ability to work from home – considerations like these will count highly going forward. If there is an “eastward” trend, so there is also an emerging “westward” trend.

    1. Bainbridge Island is growing, but not especially fast. They added 1,800 people from 2010 to 2018. Redmond added 17,000. Seattle added 147,000. (All numbers are from Wikipedia).

    2. Bainbridge grown here. Virtually everyone who lives on the Island “works” in Seattle. But that goes father into Kitsap than just Bainbridge. We get significant people driving over from Poulsbo to catch the ferry to work too and of course people from Bremerton have their own ferry as well.

      I can’t speak for the rest of the peninsula. But I know that Bainbridge has been actively resisting density growth. Though you can be forgiven thinking otherwise if you’ve only wandered around the general Winslow area (main street where the ferry lands). The city did building up those areas a little but has stopped any new projects of that kind. So its a suburb of Seattle in all but name, but the housing layout is for the most part more rural, aka very large yards in comparison to what you’d expect in a suburb today. For example my house had 3/4 acre yard, which was the norm for every property on our street.

      So yeah there is totally room to fit a lot more people onto the island. For example Mercer Island is about 1/3rd the size of Bainbridge. Yet they have nearly equal populations. Housing stock is cheaper too, especially for what you get and still being extremely close to downtown.

      I think a big reason why their hasn’t been bigger growth on the Island is people simply don’t want to take the ferry. It’s dumb but it seems to be a very real barrier in peoples minds.

      1. oh additional bit of weird history that shows just how integrated Bainbridge and Seattle really are. The share an area code, 206. The supposed reason why is some state representative lived on the Island but their office was in Seattle. They didn’t want to call long distance just to call their own office.

      2. All of western Washington was 206 until 1995. The area code splits didn’t change free calling areas. From Seattle (206) Bellevue (425) is in the free calling area but Renton (425) and Everett (425) aren’t. From Bellevue Renton is in the free calling area but parts of south King County but its reach on the west side is more limited. (I don’t remember exactly, somewhere around Richmond Beach, Des Moines, or Lynnwood I couldn’t get to from Bellevue.)

        The most ironic thing is Vashon Island is 206. When we used to go to Vashon in the 70s it had its own phone company so everything off the island was long distance. Later it got annexed to Qwest/CenturyLink so I think Seattle’s free calling area was exended to it.

      3. Back in the days when you actually “dialed” a number there were places on the Bellevue/Redmond city line where it was long distance to literally call someone across the street. And you didn’t know until the bill arrived. In part I think this was due to the different areas being served by a different Baby Bell. But from either side of the street you could call anywhere in Seattle or Bainbridge Island as a local call. When we lived in Lake City we could call virtually anywhere between Tacoma and Everett without long distance charges.

        The phone companies were highly regulated regarding local calling. As a monopoly providing an essential service (calls for police, fire, etc.) they were forced to provide service at a loss; which they gladly did in exchange for gouging people on “long distance” calls. It was typical that a long distance charge to someone out of state would be less than in state regardless of the actual distance.

      4. The ferry is a barrier in more than just minds. It’s basically a floating bus that runs hourly, and the 35-minute ferry time plus transit at either end of the terminal could stretch commutes to an hour or more each way.

        Personally, I like the contrast this creates between the east and west sides of the Sound. As a person living on the more developed east side, having at least semi-rural and wild places within easy reach of the central city is a bonus to the quality of life. I’m not sure how much longer it will last, of course.

    3. The short answer is “it depends.” The wonky answer is the MSA is King, Snohomish, and Pierce, and while CSA includes Kitsap, along with Thurston, Skagit, Island, and Mason. The map on Wikipedia is helpful: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seattle_metropolitan_area

      But those descriptions use counties, which are not how people think about density … would probably want to use the urban growth boundary for Kitsap … I think PSRC would have this data, perhaps in their Vision 2040 studies.

      I think you are definitely right that there is westward growth. The investment in ferries will certainly drive more growth across Kitsap, and as Tacoma is more subsumed into a single ‘greater Seattle’ job market, that should support growth up SR16

      1. I think you are definitely right that there is westward growth.

        But again, not much. As J.S. point out, Bainbridge is clearly a suburb of Seattle. It shares the fortunes of Seattle more than many other suburb (e. g. Bellevue, Redmond) not to mention so-called suburbs like Tacoma and Everett. It so closely tied to the big city that it has the same area code.

        Yet even amidst the greatest boom the city has ever known — even with housing prices jumping sky high — the entire county has only added 20,000 people this decade. The county includes places that are clearly *not* tied to Seattle (places like Poulsbo, which accounts for about 10% of that growth). Yes, Kitsap County has grown, but in numbers that are still rather insignificant.

        Personally, I think that is a good thing. I could see Bremerton becoming even more urban (and it is growing) but I would hate to see the island just become a huge sprawling mess.

  10. It’s all fascinating data! It’s easy to get caught up in raw numbers and percentages.

    Let’s remember that these are mostly “lag” statistics. While housing occupancy rates can vary, in a mostly full occupancy situation it’s the number of newly permitted units in one year that will have a direct bearing on population growth in the next. Frankly, when the population growth exceeds housing unit growth, we may be experiencing overcrowding that’s not necessarily a good thing.

    As a statistic on a given day, it also can be affected by the date some of these buildings open. When several developments contain over 300 or 400 units, a four-month delay could impact the annual statistic. While that’s impactful in Seattle data, it’s even more impactful in smaller cities.

    So it’s an important statistic, but not one that should be obsessively nuanced from one year to the next. Our metro area has enjoyed a robust economic growth for this decade and individual city rates from one year to the next may be getting too detailed to understand the overall trends and make policy choices based on them. Trying to rank them to nuance trends is probably going a bit too overboard.

  11. More about how percentages are silly:

    With this decade coming to a close, Seattle will have grown roughly 25%. It went from a city of 600,000 to a city of 750,000. This was extraordinary, and unlikely to continue. But what if it did:

    If the city added 150,000 every ten years, then in 100 years there would be 2.2 million people. This would be more populous than Paris, but with about twice the area. Thus it could be achieved with Paris/Brooklyn style growth — low rise apartments, row houses, even occasional existing houses (but likely broken up into smaller apartments). We would be a major city, but not an extraordinary one — nothing that special in terms of overall size of density.

    Now look at it from a percentage standpoint. At that rate, the city doubles in size every 30 years or so. In 90 years, the city would be 8 times as big — or 60 million people. It would be the biggest city on earth. It would be by far the most densely populated place on earth. It would make Hong Kong look like Topeka.

    The former is unlikely, but still quite possible. The latter is ridiculous. It won’t happen here — it won’t happen anywhere.

    That is why percentages are misleading. It is telling that when folks list the “fastest growing cities”, they have to categorize that by “over 50,000”. The only reason for that is that a misleading statistic would become even more misleading. I’m sure there are towns that have grown 500% in the last couple years. They obviously aren’t growing as fast as Seattle.

  12. Question for the OP:
    Did you include Renton in your “Eastside bucket”? Over the years, I’ve seen studies/analyses where it has been included and some where it hasn’t. In the latter case, Renton either got included with Seattle and Tukwila or lumped in with South King County. (The same sort of issue exists for Bothell, particularly since it extends into a second county.) Perhaps you could expand on your admittedly “somewhat arbitrary” definition of the Eastside data grouping utilized here. Thanks!

    1. I did not include Renton. It’s definitely an edge case. Sound Transit, for instance, has it in the east subarea. Economically & socially, though, I view the Eastside as the tech corridor from DT Bellevue up through the Bothell office district plus the residential communities most closely aligned thereto.

      For purposes of today’s discussion, it’s behaving like a slow-growing South King city. Negative 36 residents in 2019, after a burst of growth in the first half of the decade.

      1. Yeah, I would consider Renton an edge city. Culturally, it is linked more closely to Seattle (especially Rainier Valley) than the East Side. This is probably the case economically, although I would imagine there are a lot of people — especially in the north part of Renton — who work on the East Side.

        The geography reflects this. Downtown Renton is closer to Seattle than it is to Bellevue. But downtown Renton is closer to downtown Bellevue than it is to downtown Seattle.

      2. Thanks for clarifying this for me, Dan.

        “Culturally, it is linked more closely to Seattle (especially Rainier Valley) than the East Side.”

        I’m not sure exactly what is meant by the use of the word “culturally” here in your comment above, but I still wanted to make a couple of follow-up points:

        1. I think some of these “linked” notions are drawn from historical perspectives that aren’t quite as prevalent today as they once were*. While the Renton Boeing plant is still the largest employer in the city and a big draw for residing there, the city’s economy is more diversified today than it was just a couple of decades ago**. Additionally, the city’s residents, who still overwhelmingly commute to their jobs by driving alone and have an average commute time of over 30 minute (based on the last data I came across), are working all over Seattle and the Eastside, many in tech jobs located at SLU, downtown Bellevue and the Bellevue-Redmond corridor. Renton housing costs, while still high compared to other suburbs, offer some relief from corresponding costs in Seattle and Bellevue. Hence, the commutes to the afforementioned locales. Additionally, the baby boomers have retired or are nearing retirement and their adult children are opting to not follow their parents’ paths to Boeing’s doors***.
        2. The geography does come into play here and I think one could reasonably argue that sections of Renton are more closely tied to the Eastside than to Seattle. Two of my in-laws’ families live in the Kennydale/McKnight area and of the four parents, three work in Bellevue and one works in Seattle. The one family’s adult son also works in Bellevue. The stores and restaurants they frequent are more often than not located in the Bellevue area. (If a new restaurant has opened in Bellevue or Redmond, I typically hear about it from one of these two families.) The majority of their social acquaintances, from what I have gathered over the years, are from the Eastside as well, most likely because of the relationships they have made through their places of employment and through their children’s schools. Admittedly, my one sister-in-law has strong Bellevue roots to begin with as she grew up there and still has several siblings who live in the Bellevue- Redmond-Kirkland area.

        I’m in agreement that Renton is an “edge city”. I’m just not so certain that it shouldn’t be considered as part of the Eastside in these sorts of analyses. It is clearly part of the I-405 corridor (and hence its related commute patterns) and I think that was a large part of the reasoning as to why Sound Transit included the city within the East King County subarea. Anyway, there’s my two cents’ worth. Lol.

        *Reference 1
        https://www.geekwire.com/2018/rentons-resurgence-built-boeings-back-city-poised-tech-boom-seattles-shadow/

        **Reference 2
        https://whyrenton.com/live-and-work/major-employers-renton/

        ***Reference 3
        https://www.reuters.com/article/us-boeing-production-robots-insight/as-boeing-booms-robots-rise-and-job-growth-lags-idUSKCN0T50E420151116

      3. “Culturally, it is linked more closely to Seattle (especially Rainier Valley) than the East Side.”

        I’m not sure exactly what is meant by the use of the word “culturally” here in your comment above

        Sure, I’ll explain. Rainier Valley has had a large African American community for a while now. But as property values increased, many of those residents moved south, towards Renton. Some of the people simply cashed out — gentrification isn’t always a bad thing. Others were pushed out. Either way, a lot of the African American community has moved south. Some of the churches and other community organizations have also moved south. But of course not everyone has left. This has lead to stronger cultural ties between the areas.

      4. Renton is a bit of a demographic enigma for our region. It’s listed as 28.6 percent foreign born. Almost all ethnic groups are well represented.

        As a result, it’s not very easy to generalize who lives there. One thing is for sure though: It is not the place it was in 1980 and before when initial new rail transit systems were studied. It’s social and economic systems vary significantly from one home to the next.

        Rather than obsess about social characteristics, I think it makes more sense to define areas by major geographic barriers. The mountains south of I-90 are a prominent feature on the landscape and there are few crossings over them. That’s how I would “draw the line”.

        With 1/6th of the ST East King Subarea population, I wonder how ST3 would be different if Renton was in the South King Subarea. Sales tax revenue from Renton car dealers and IKEA are huge, and yet Renton is getting only modest improvements from the East King pot. I’d think that a four-mile Eastgate to Issaquah Link segment on I-90 could have instead been a four-mile BAR to South Renton along SR 900, for example.

      5. Renton doesn’t fit into a box because its neighborhoods are very different. Al makes a good point about geographic barriers. Renton south of 405 is clearly a part of the Green river valley industrial complex and therefore South King, while Renton east of 405 is textbook bedroom suburbs with perhaps more in common with Newcastle (some of Renton city limits extends into the Issaquah school district), and Renton within 405 is probably closely associated with Seattle for the reasons Ross illustrated. It’s very much the city at the nexus of Seattle, south King, and East King … which I suppose is pretty obvious given its location.

        On taxes, keep in mind that a large part of sales tax revenue comes from construction, so the building boom in the Kirkland/Redmond/Bellevue triangle is driving much of the ST tax revenue, far more than a few large retails centers like Ikea. Renton by itself could never fund a Link extension, unless there robust growth in its downtown core. Issaquah its getting rail because its old mayor played the game much better than Renton’s politicians.

  13. The stacked bar chart for Eastside, Seattle, and Other King is a super helpful visualization. Do you have something similar for the counties, in addition to the % growth line chart?

      1. Based on that, it looks like growth in King County is mostly in urban areas, while growth in the other counties is mostly sprawl.

      2. I could maybe update the post from some years ago, but it’d be the same result. Tacoma and Everett are “planned” to take a large part of their respective county’s growth, and as a result to grow much faster than Seattle and Bellevue.

        But the 2010-2019 numbers are: 23.4% in Seattle, 15.4% in Bellevue, 8.0% in Everett, 9.9% in Tacoma.

        In raw counts, that’ is: +143k in Seattle, +13k in Bellevue, +8k in Everett, +20k in Tacoma. Even Redmond is +17k. There’s nothing in the recent trajectory to indicate a change either.

  14. “Hopefully similar to the Great Depression, we’ll realize that our country is not actually broke, but rather we’ve just allowed our wealth to accumulate in places that are not conducive to a functioning country/economy and need to put that wealth to good use.”

    RapidRider, in upper-class England, a wonderful understatement like that would require only one word for an answer: “Quite.” But my Essential (verified by the State Police) walks around the Capitol grounds take me past a monument that calls up an association with some much darkness a lot deeper.

    The influenza epidemic at the end of the First World War had an accomplice in the White House who would’ve made my current problem Pennsylvania Avenue tenant look just sort of bellowing and bungling. Woodrow Wilson’s every picture shows an intelligent mannerly gentleman.

    Who was also a racist who in addition to reversing a generation of hard-won laws protecting Black people after the Civil War, also facilitated Congress as it made interracial marriage a crime in Washington DC.

    Going on to jail Indiana Congressman Eugene V. Debs for critcizing prosecutions for disobeying the World War I draft laws. Under the self-same Sedition law that probably landed countless doctors and nurses in jail, or at least threatened them with it, for revealing the ‘Flu’s true menace.

    Over the last few decades, the side I support politically has gotten extremely comfortable with the wealth-apportionment of which you speak.

    Any chance that nobody’s “realized” the problem is because it’s so cuddly and comfortable to live with if you’re about three income-digits’ above our vast majority? I don’t like at all the composition of the Courts who are going to have to deal with this touching familiarity:

    Making it against the law to call a lying President a liar lets loose in the winds of our land the smell of a collapsing hospital ward of 102 years ago.

    As long as the Democrats, whom I’ve supported all my life, think I’m an extremist for advocating the co-pay-free public health system that’s center-right in Europe….too bad the years I’ve got left aren’t still spent in Chicago.

    Because whatever his faults, as long as my tomb-stone was still there to take a surface copy of, (the first) Mayor Richard J. Dailey would never permit a registered voter to lose their vote just because they died.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I tend to be somewhat of a political moderate. I strongly oppose Trump’s tax breaks for the wealthy, but at the same a fiscal policy that aims to take everybody’s money and redistribute it, I’m not too supportive of that either – at least not to the extreme degree that candidates were proposing in the presidential debates.

      I support emergency temporary measures where the government pays for testing and treatment of people with COVID-19, but don’t believe it is fiscally sustainable for the government to pay to treat any ailment anyone might have, ever, in perpetuity.

      I strongly support public schools and public transit, and am even open to Bernie Sanders’ ideas for free or heavily subsidized child care and college. But I am much more ambivalent about public housing because the cost per individual per month is so high, and, unlike other benefits that are only needed for specific stages in life, this one seems to never end.

      Growing up in Texas, I thought I was a liberal, but after moving to Seattle, seemed quite conservative, relative to the people around me, in spite of the fact that I can’t stand any politician with the “R” label attached to their name, and doubly so in the age of Trump.

      In some ways, I feel like an oddity in that I’m much farther to the left in terms of transit than I am on other economic issues. Perhaps because, unlike most other forms of government benefits, transit scales very well in the sense that, as more people use it, the cost per person served falls, and falls drastically. I have also grown to greatly appreciate the symbiotic effects of transit and walking, and the resultant benefit to people’s health. And because it’s something I see of being useful, if done right, to people across the economic spectrum, rather than merely a tool for poor people.

      1. Perhaps because, unlike most other forms of government benefits, transit scales very well in the sense that, as more people use it, the cost per person served falls, and falls drastically.

        Actually that is true of most government benefits. Spend more on social services, and prison/judicial costs go way down. Spend more on foreign engagement/government aid and you spend less on military intervention. Spend more on public health, and well, I think you know the answer there. There is a reason why people who are well informed* tend to be on the left. The research supports our case.

        * By well informed I mean folks who spend a lot of time reading news articles as well as public policy articles (e. g. The New Yorker, The Atlantic). It is hard to make the case for, say, “Three strikes you’re out” when all evidence suggests that it is not the most cost effective way to reduce crime.

  15. We are not doing a perfect job by any means, but I think this shows we are doing a good job of building housing near where the jobs are. Especially compared to the Bay Area, which has significantly higher wages, but essentially no population growth.

    And we have really come nowhere near running out of space to build relatively cheap 5-story apartment buildings.

    1. I had a similar thought. I was if the deceleration in Other King has to do with less opportunities for greenfield development as the UGA line holds, channeling the growth the areas where infill & brownfield development is more worthwhile, i.e. in the more expensive Seattle and Eastside markets.

    2. Does the Bay Area have no growth? From what I can tell, San Fransisco added 80,000 people this decade. Oakland added 40,000, and Berkeley 10,000.

      I don’t know how that compares to the sprawl outside it, but that isn’t nothing.

      As to your other point, I agree, but I think it is also quite possible that the region is sprawling at the same time that Seattle (and its more urban suburbs) are growing quickly as well. My guess is the Bay Area is doing something similar.

      1. Haven’t looked at all of the Bay Area. But Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley all have similar trends. All experienced a run of fast growth through 2015, then a tailing off to slowish growth in Oakland and a nearly complete stop in San Francisco. Now two years of declining population in Berkeley.

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