Growth in the past decade: winners and losers

The state is growing vigorously, all across the landscape. Hopes of urban concentration are not being realized, with some exceptions.

Highway 520 in Bellevue at evening rush hour.

Highway 520 in Bellevue at evening rush hour. WSDOT

Washington state and the greater Seattle region grew fairly vigorously from 2000 to 2010, as they have most decades for over a century, and this growth is unusually high for a non-Sunbelt state. And it is not just the engine of Seattle causing this growth; eastern as well as western Washington had substantial growth. Fast-growing counties are found in the east (Franklin, 50 percent over the decade, is the easy winner, along with Benton 23, Kittitas, 22, and Grant 20), while in the west Clark and Mason grew 23 percent, Thurston 22, Whatcom 20, and Snohomish 18.

There were a few areas of slow growth or decline, as in the heart of the wheat country, but significant growth occurred in four kinds of areas. Most dramatic is the growth in non-Seattle metropolitan areas, most notably the Tri-Cities, Vancouver, Bellingham, Olympia, Spokane, Yakima, and Wenatchee. Second is the population growth associated with the Columbia Basin project, fueled by heavy Latino in-migration and high birth rates.

Third is growth in selected environmental-amenity areas, often with retiree in-migration, in many counties across the state. Such amenity-fueled growth was dramatic in all directions beyond the metropolitan central Puget Sound core, but was also impressive in several areas in eastern Washington such as in Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Kittitas, and Stevens. Fourth, despite growth management efforts and laws, is metropolitan exurban growth, especially around Vancouver, Spokane, Bellingham, and the Tri-Cities.

Turning to central Puget Sound, the most dramatic growth (often over 100 percent) occurred at the far edge of the urban growth areas, and just beyond as exurban growth. This is true in absolute numbers as well as rates. Growth management and upzoning have been unable to stem this tide, for two main reasons — the preference of families with children for single family houses and greater housing affordability, at least in some areas (as Covington, Kent, Arlington, and South Hill). Growth was also impressive in most rural and exurban areas, especially in Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap counties (King much less).

There was also more concentrated growth in already urban areas, city and suburban. Higher density apartment growth did occur across much of Seattle, Tacoma, south King county, in some Eastside cities, and in the SR 99 corridor of Snohomish County. In Pierce, Snohomish, and south King, this growth tended to be in less affluent areas, which are attractive to many people, including young families, who cannot afford to live in Seattle. Areas of slower growth tended to be military areas, some urban non-residential tracts, and some more affluent, older settled single family home areas with an aging population. Growth in downtown Seattle and Bellevue and Tacoma was also significant.

It’s also interesting to look at density, as a measure of “urban-ness." Seattle really has achieved a substantial degree of such urbanness, dominating in central Seattle but spreading to all corners of the city. Other areas of higher density include the SR99 corridor in Snohomish County, especially south Everett, parts of Kirkland, Redmond, Bellevue to the east, and in south King County around the SR 99 corridor again, and parts of Renton, Kent, and Auburn; and in Pierce County, downtown Tacoma, and some of South Tacoma into Parkland. But this leaves more than half the urban footprint resistant to the officially preferred urban densities.

As  the late great UW economist Charlie Tiebout told a seminar 50 years ago, “People vote with their feet,” and this is certainly true about residential choices. While a minority of as much as a quarter of Americans probably prefer higher-density living, for reasons of age, family status, or ideology, the large majority does not and will not.

To me, the tragedy is how smart growth transfers wealth and the vaunted “quality of life” to the rich and professionals, at the expense of the poor and of minorities. Sadly too, the Democratic Party seems totally blind to the fact that the fixation on new urbanism contributes to a rightward backlash. Folks do not want to be told how to live, especially when the objective facts do not support the policies.

Dick Morrill is emeritus professor of geography at the University of Washington and an expert in urban demography.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Mar 17, 12:01 p.m. Inappropriate

Dick,
Great article except for the political spin.

Posted Thu, Mar 17, 1:52 p.m. Inappropriate

To say 'people vote with their feet' is incredibly simple minded. People vote with their subsidies. There are many subsidies that favor suburban or exurban living. It is interesting that even proposing a reduction in suburban or auto subsidies is translated into 'telling folks how to live'.

Dick, how do you respond to this?

andy

Posted Thu, Mar 17, 3:33 p.m. Inappropriate

I was goint to make the same point about sprawl subsidies!

Another takeaway is that people who want to live in Seattle are choosing the suburbs because of price. Of course we knew this already, but it partially counters the "voting with feet" arguement.

Regarding outer edge growth, it sounds like growth management's biggest problem is that it's not tight enough.

mhays

Posted Thu, Mar 17, 4:27 p.m. Inappropriate

Much of the price problem with living in the city is associated with draconian, auto-oriented zoning. If these laws were changed, it would be easier to create cheaper housing. Most of the popular in-city neighborhoods would be illegal to build today because of these zoning laws. Neighborhood corner stores and cafes are against the law! How could this be in America? Norman Rockwell is turning over in his grave. This is the actual "telling folks how to live" problem.

andy

Posted Fri, Mar 18, 12:56 a.m. Inappropriate

When the day comes that 5 percent of the world's population in the US no longer gets to burn 25 percent of the world's oil, then we'll see who is "telling people how to live." It won't be pretty.

Posted Fri, Mar 18, 10:44 a.m. Inappropriate

The Democratic Party has two mutually-excusve planks in their policy platform: support for environmental protections and support for illegal immigrants. We cannot have both.

Researchers at Oregon State University have determined the NUMBER ONE THREAT to PNW salmon and their habitats is immigration into the region, the vast majority of which comes from outside the U.S. and Canada. These researchers say if nothing is done to control immigration, NOTHING ELSE WE DO will save PNW salmon and their habitats.

So, what's it gonna be Democrats? Immigrants or the environment. You can't have your cake and eat it, too. You don't have to be a Nina Totenburg to understand that.

BlueLight

Posted Fri, Mar 18, 11:06 a.m. Inappropriate

Environmentalists care about how many people there are in the world, total, and about how we operate.

Immigration is just about what country they live in. It's not much of a factor if we're doing the "how" right.

mhays

Posted Fri, Mar 18, 12:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Andy and MHays, please tell us about sprawl subsidies - I think I'm going to learn something.

Thanks.

chuckr

Posted Fri, Mar 18, 12:39 p.m. Inappropriate

Wrong, mhays. You cannot socially-engineer your way out of the fact that EVERY human being has an environmental price tag (we all eat, drink, pee, poop, etc). The more people there are here, the worse off our environment will be. Period.

BlueLight

Posted Fri, Mar 18, 1:11 p.m. Inappropriate

Wrong BlueLight. Minus one plus one equals zero.

mhays

Posted Fri, Mar 18, 1:16 p.m. Inappropriate

chuckr, for starters, how about the much better federal matches for highways vs. transit that existed until recently. Or the fact that the GI bill for a long time applied to new houses but not older ones and certainly not apartments. Or the fact that even in places with development fees, much of the "first cost" of new roads, schools, etc., is paid via general funds.

Or how about the zoning that even today in most places requires uses to be separate, with large parking requirements and lot size requirements for each. Social engineering and mandated sprawl at its finest.

mhays

Posted Fri, Mar 18, 2:04 p.m. Inappropriate

chuckr, for every $1 king county pays to the state in tax it gets 62 cents back. I don't have the figures for Seattle only, but I bet it gets back even less.

andy

Posted Fri, Mar 18, 2:20 p.m. Inappropriate

Except we're not "minusing" one, mhays. There is a net influx of people into the region. And despite efforts at water conservation, transit, etc; they by no means "minus one" from the average per capita environmental footprint. These efforts, perhaps, minus 0.01 per capita. So if we "add one" new and "minus" 0.01 existing we grow the environmental impact. You can't have your cake and eat it, too.

BlueLight

Posted Mon, Mar 21, 4:57 p.m. Inappropriate

Subsidizing dense urban areas may be the latest thing in some (suspect) circles of the environmental movement, so called 'green density'. There's however another descriptor with a stronger historical foundation - it's called 'crime and gang ridden project'.

It's curious how the supporters of such housing subsidies are pretty much exactly the same crowd that supports the downtown tunnel - evidencing 'gang' type problems even before anything even gets started.

A new urban density can work, but it is a safe bet that it will need to be private sector driven to do so. Maintaining community requires free, and fairly compensated, **individuals** - whether it be a housing project or the civic fabric of an entire city.

We better hope the 'failure' of these wannabes is a lesson learned all across the geography of America.

Posted Tue, Mar 22, 9:01 a.m. Inappropriate

True believers of New Urbanism seem as unreachable by reason as religious fundamentalists! Marx long ago, and many economists over the years have shown that cities exploit the countryside, not the other way around. Probably a quarter of a big city's gross product comes from its trade surplus with its hinterland.The biggest cities are more costly per capita than smaller ones, a cost justified by their high creativity. Places of 50000 to 200000 appear to be the most efficient.
From the beginning of my involvement in planning in the 1950s, I advocated higher taxes on gasoline and tolls to raise the efficiency of transportation (although folks should realize that the proportional subsidies of transit, and especially of trains, is far greater). As a member of the Boundary Review Board for King county, and as Director of the PhD Program in Urban Planning, I ardently supported good planning and cost effective settlement, but in a free society, we need to recognize that needs of families with children are different from childless professionals, and that preferred single family housing need not sprawl, but canbe of quie high density, for example that in many Seattle neighborhoods threatened with overlealous up-zoning.

DMorrill

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