Our Sponsors:

Read more »

Our Members

Many thanks to Anthony Robinson and Richard Wilson some of our many supporters.

ALL MEMBERS »

Is Bellevue the new Vancouver?

The transformation of the Eastside by foreign immigrants creates an opportunity for a new discussion about the ambitions of a booming city.
Bellevue seen from Newcastle

Bellevue seen from Newcastle Photo: Joe Wolf

The Bellevue skyline, seen from Seattle's Mount Baker district

The Bellevue skyline, seen from Seattle's Mount Baker district Joe Wolf

For decades, people have wondered what Bellevue would be when it grew up. Would it simply be an affluent "Greater Seattle" neighborhood? A Twin City, a suburban St. Paul to Seattle's Minneapolis? Would it be the Anaheim of an Eastside Orange County? The San Jose of the Silicon Forest?

In the '90s, it was identified as part of a new entity, the Edge City, where under-the-radar urbanization was shaping a new kind of suburban economic powerhouse. As skyscrapers rose across Lake Washington, they raised vague questions in the minds of Seattleites about the upstart of Pugetopolis: What's happening over there?

It turns out, a great deal. Bellevue set a course to be a grown-up city, and took a huge step by finally approving the route for East Link light rail through downtown, new infrastructure that will expand and re-shape Bellevue dramatically. The city now has a central park, expanded retail and office space, vastly increased density, a huge downtown population of young people. If its downtown still feels somewhat sterile, the overall picture is of a city that is definitely headed for a post-suburban some place.

The most significant change since the 1990s is that the city is now more racially and ethnically diverse than Seattle itself. The population shift is due largely to immigration. As Eric Scigliano reported in his recent story "The Eastside Express Lane to the American Dream," by 2010 "More than 30 percent of Bellevue and Redmond's populations were immigrants, up from 13 percent in 1990--a larger share than Seattle's 17 percent." That near tripling of the foreign immigrants' share of the population is increasing. To give an idea, Bellevue's 98007 zip code, which includes the Crossroads and West Lake Hills, is 43.8 percent foreign born, matching Seattle's south end 98108 zip code (South Beacon Hill, Georgetown) with 44 percent. The immigrants are of all races and such stats certainly put to rest the image of Bellevue as Blandview.

Crosscut and Seattle Magazine recently co-sponsored a panel discussion in downtown Bellevue on Eastside immigration, and one thing that emerged in the discussion was that the reality and vision of Bellevue has gone from  one based mainly on affluence to a future city that is more truly a mixing of peoples from around the world drawn to Bellevue by great schools and high-tech jobs that are transforming the old white-bread culture of the Eastside. As a result, the aspirational models for Bellevue are now higher than a rainy version of Anaheim or suburban echo. If Seattle's first settlers called their city, "New York Alki," meaning "New York, Someday," Bellevueites like Mayor Conrad Lee, a Chinese immigrant himself, can legitimately start thinking in terms of a city evolving towards being a new Vancouver, or even San Francisco, both cities cited during our panel discussion.

Vancouver is closer and perhaps more relevant, though all major West Coast cities are being shaped by Pacific proximity. The Eastside's immigrants, like Vancouver's, include many affluent and well-educated people from Asia. They seem to have brought a kind of entrepreneurial energy that captures the classic spirit of communities determined to improve their lot. This goes beyond the Chinese. One of our panelists, Natasha Savage, founder of the Eastern European American Chamber of Commerce, half-jokingly warned the mayor of Medina, one of the region's wealthiest enclaves, that the Russians would soon be coming to his neighborhood.

The scale of change in Vancouver, however, is even beyond the impressive leaps of the Eastside, and gives a hint at what could be in Bellevue's future. An analysis of Vancouver's demographic course predicts that not only will the metro area's white population be a minority by 2031 but that only one out of four Vancouverites then will even have a grandparent who was born in Canada. Sixty percent of the metro area's population will be non-white, most from China, South Asia, the Philippines, Korea or West Asia. The report is based on trends and birthrates, but the internationalizing of Vancouver that we've witnessed since Expo '86 only seems to be accelerating, and the impact is almost unprecedented in North America, says the Vancouver Sun.


Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!

Comments:

Posted Wed, May 1, 11:43 a.m. Inappropriate

Always interesting to read you on Eastside topics, ever since Eastsideweek started in 1990. Diversity on Eastside is somewhat less diverse, in an urban sense, than some of the gross figures indicate. At the panel, which I also attended, I gathered that the Eastside is 40 percent non white, but 30 percent Asian. The diversity is Asian and white, with lots of different Asians but most of them very intent on the American dream. Not much in the way of blacks and hispanics, who tend to be in South King County (the truly diverse area of our region).

I wonder about the Vancouver analogy, since it doesn't have much high-tech (except video game designers) and is more a residential/shopping city at the core than an economic/commercial dynamo like Bellevue. Silicon Valley seems to me a better analogy, with office parks and corporate campuses the norm, a highly educated (and diverse) workforce, relatively few cultural institutions, and a car-based landscape.

Posted Wed, May 1, 2:47 p.m. Inappropriate

With Kemper Freeman remaining benevolently in charge, and if the light rail were expanded to include a metropolitan loop system -- maybe with a world class zoo somewhere near Overlake -- Bellevue could vie to become the next Singapore.

woofer

Posted Wed, May 1, 6:21 p.m. Inappropriate

The question I raised is whether there's an urban, aspirational model for the new Bellevue. Vancouver seems like an interesting one. They share affluent immigrants, Asians dominating (though interestingly, Bellevue has more blacks and Latinos as a percentage than Vancouver--the black population of metro Vancouver is only 1%; 2.3% in Bvue). The addition of high-rises, the desire to seek foreign, specifically Asian investment, the coming of light rail, the liberalization of its politics....True, the Silicon Valley has similarities but that comparison seems more apt for the Eastside.

Posted Thu, May 2, 9:56 a.m. Inappropriate

The influx of Asians to Vancouver in the 1990's was a lot of really wealthy Hong Kong families removing themselves and large amounts of their wealth to Canada in advance of the handover by the UK to China. The influx of Asians to the eastside -- in sharp contrast -- is a function of normal US immigration policies and several high tech companies there maximizing their utilization of this country's three-year work visas to bring in cubicle-serfs. Those two situations are fundamentally different.

And what is this with the suggestion that light rail in Bellevue somehow would be a transformative event there? Light rail has been up and running in Seattle for four years and it has accomplished . . . wait for it . . . essentially nothing in terms of private TOD investment, economic gains for neighborhood residents proximate to the stations, significant employment, upward mobility for the poor or traditionally-disadvantaged ethnic groups, or otherwise.

What exactly do you think is going to be so astounding if light rail service starts up over there? There have been huge numbers of apartments built on this side of the lake during the past four years, virtually all far away from light rail stations. Saying there will be some TOD apartments/retail along Bel-Red Road is no answer to that question.

crossrip

Posted Thu, May 2, 10:52 p.m. Inappropriate

. . . Next to the Pioneer Square light rail station there’s a full block of empty hole where a building used to be, and that void has been there for years. Light rail did not spur any development there. Why exactly is light rail supposedly going to be transformational in Bellevue? It hasn't done squat in Seattle.

Sound Transit’s light rail was a bust for two of the McCaw brothers as well -- they bought the 320,000-square-foot development at 605 and 625 5th Avenue South in 2000 for $84.9 million, and it sold last month for what amounts to a loss: $97 million:

http://seattletimes.com/html/businesstechnology/2020694442_unionstationxml.html

In downtown Seattle and Bellevue two big commercial property owners sold at near-losses over the past couple of years, and their properties were right at existing and planned light stations. Those two are Whitehall Street, and Schnitzer West (prior owner of The Bravern development).

Goldman Sachs’ real estate investment entity Whitehall Street just walked away from its big (and highly leveraged) investments near the proposed Bellevue and existing downtown Seattle light rail stations:

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2018585317_goldman03.html

That high-profile portfolio was assembled and purchased in 2007 when the East Link ballot measure was in its final stages and prior to going before voters the first time.

The boys at Goldman are intimately familiar with what’s up with Sound Transit – G.S. is a money-sucking vampire squid and it has been the driving force behind that government’s staggeringly abusive debt-heavy financing plan since the beginning in 1996. This would have been a classic Goldman ploy – make money both ways (as financier for the bond sales and as a property owner benefiting from new stations going in near the properties). It bailed though.

The luxury, high-cost-to-construct Bravern in downtown Bellevue built in 2009 sold in 2011 for about $250/sf. By way of comparison, Canyon Park Place in Bothell with not-quite-luxury retailers QFC and Bartell Drug, just sold for $268/sf. Considering what the Bravern cost to build, Schnitzer West took a bath.

So what is so special about the promise of light rail and Asians on the eastside? I don’t get it.

crossrip

Posted Mon, May 13, 11:31 a.m. Inappropriate

Look outside downtown. Light rail and associated development has increased density in SE Seattle. The residential property market has barely begun to recover from its Great Recession collapse, and commercial property often follows residential trends in recoveries.

Also, judging the success of the transformative power of light rail by the commercial property value metric alone is flying blind, not to mentioned skewing results given recent history in the real estate market GENERALLY (which were historically horrible for reasons having nothing to do with mass transit).

Housing costs need to drop in relation to wages - they are too high in the entire Seattle area (including Bellevue). So there's success metric that would also be relevant. Residential housing values are relevant as well. So are the number and success metrics for small businesses in rail station areas. So are demographics, infrastructure investments outside transportation, etc.

There's a thing called "confirmation bias" that is playing pretty heavily in your analysis, I think.

nullbull

Posted Mon, May 13, 12:04 p.m. Inappropriate

Light rail and associated development has increased density in SE Seattle.

You're wrong. There has been SHA building along MLK Way, but very little TOD. There are a bunch of empty lots along that rail line that Sound Transit owns and has been unable to develop.

Also, judging the success of the transformative power of light rail by the commercial property value metric alone is flying blind

I have no idea what that is supposed to mean. What I do know is that in other metro areas, such as in the greater Portland area, there has been TOD. Private investment in commercial property was supposed to follow light rail here as well:

"Rail, unlike bus systems, opens up all sorts of additional development opportunities (that's another way of saying, "Yes, even more jobs"). Portland's experience is that $6 billion in development occurred within walking distance of MAX light rail stations since 1980. There are similar findings in Dallas and San Diego, where property values around the light rail stations jumped by double-digits."

http://www.seattlepi.com/opinion/383847_soundtransited.html

That did not happen, yet there is lots of commercial and residential development far away from that light rail line in southeast Seattle.

So are the number and success metrics for small businesses in rail station areas. So are demographics, infrastructure investments outside transportation, etc.

That's gibberish. Nothing more, nothing less.

I'll repeat the question I have about this K.B. piece: What makes anyone think the promise of light rail (and Asians?) on the eastside will transform it?

crossrip

Posted Fri, May 3, 1:12 p.m. Inappropriate

Some credit should be given to the role played by Mark Hinshaw and several others in the development and implementation of the downtown Bellevue Urban Design Plan -- a plan that linked shaping private development around transit (Bellevue Transit Center), improving the public realm (specifically the pedestrian realm as well as the park), and adding a mix of uses (especially more housing). In contrast to many "edge cities," Bellevue has gotten a lot right and credit should be given to those who developed the downtown plan about two decades ago. It remains a "work-in-progress," but the logic of the plan has been shown as new projects have come on line over the past 20 years.

Posted Mon, May 6, 9:46 a.m. Inappropriate

A nice hat-tip to Mark Hinshaw in this Neal Peirce column about the greening of suburban cities.

http://seattletimes.com/html/opinion/2020918143_peircecolgreencitiesxml.html

Posted Mon, May 6, 10:54 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for the article - interesting. Light rail is having an effect on development - take a look at the transformation of the Roosevelt Neighborhood in North Seattle around the planned stop. Urban densitiy is on the increase there, particularly with City approving some minor building height increases for what used to be SF house lots owned by a slum lord. You could say that some of this transformation to shops and condos was already under way. Possibly. But light rail definately has spurred this on. Downtown Seattle and downtown Bellevue have a lot other colliding factors. But, in the long run - I think it is a good thing and will work out.

Treker

Posted Mon, May 6, 11:59 a.m. Inappropriate

light rail definately [sic] has spurred this on

You're conflating correlation with causation.

There are about 36 light rail systems in this country. Atlanta has had one up and running for over thirty years -- home prices there dropped more in the 2008 - 2012 period than anywhere else in the country. That system didn't bring prosperity to Atlanta and it isn't helping the vast bulk of the poor there.

I get it that Microsoft wants the light rail train built from the airport out to its offices in Redmond (the "Overlake Transit Center"), and I get that Kemper Development Company, Wallace Properties, Wright Runstad and other urban property speculators want the public to pay scores of billions of dollars of regressive taxes to pay for a train system that could be expected to increase the values of those developers' properties. I also get that Wright Runstad would like to rent apartments it wants to build on Bel-Red road to Asians Microsoft acquires via the three-year work visas (that way they'll take the train and be at their cubicles for maximum hours).

What I don't get is why anyone would beat the drum incessantly for Sound Transit on the grounds that the proposed commuter train and some kind of tide of Asians is going to transform Bellevue into something more significant or even different than it already is.

crossrip

Posted Mon, May 6, 4:39 p.m. Inappropriate

The question of whether development occurs around urban rail stations cannot be answered simply by looking at station locations and seeing if development has occurred. Other factors come into play. One obvious issue is the zoning -- in the San Francisco Bay Area there is significant development around some BART stations, but not others; some municipalities zoned for denser development, but others did not. Another obvious factor is the general economy -- in Buffalo the light rail system generated a little new development, but it's very limited because Buffalo has been in decline for decades.

Overall, transportation modes and land use patterns are obviously interrelated. This premise is accepted by land use planners, transportation planners, urban designers, civic leaders, etc. The evidence of the relationship between land use patterns and transportation is evident in the pattern of neighborhood commercial centers in the inner neighborhoods in Seattle. Where there once was a streetcar line, today there is a neighborhood commercial center.

Posted Mon, May 6, 5:15 p.m. Inappropriate

Overall, transportation modes and land use patterns are obviously interrelated.

As a general premise, that might be true. But that premise does not guarantee any kind of outcome, for well-established neighborhoods or the people of an urban region, if a light rail line and several dozen stations now are carved out into it. Even spot zoning around stations doesn't mean things in a neighborhood will be better for anyone there if there is light rail added the way Sound Transit is doing it.

Look at Atlanta. It has had a light rail system up and running for thirty years. It has a corporate headquarters, a huge international airport, and institutions of higher learning: all significant elements that we also have. There is still sprawl s.f.d. sprawl there, traffic congestion is bad, and the overall economy has not been helped by light rail even though many more people have been using it for decades than use the light rail we have here.

Where there once was a streetcar line, today there is a neighborhood commercial center.

That's not true. There was a streetcar line along Yesler to Leschi, and one down Madison to Madison Park, early last century. There were diversions and ferry terminals at the ends of those lines, but no "neighborhood commercial centers" ever sprang up along their lengths.

I don't understand what you are trying to suggest, if anything, about what putting in light rail to Bellevue might mean. There has already been upzoning along Bel-Red Road in anticipation of it, as the urban property speculators want to cash in on the vast transfer of billions of dollars from the middle-class individuals and families here to the few of them that Sound Transit is trying to effectuate. Going to the point of this story ("Whither Bellevue?"), I don't expect it will have big impacts to any of the entities except Microsoft (which will benefit from the investments) and the property developers there.

Can you share some Google Earth images of areas around light rail stations in the areas served by Atlanta's light rail system that Bellevue should strive to emulate? What good did it do there that might translate to benefits for this region?

Do you have any idea what the tax cost to the public of the Sound Transit financing plan is, Jeffrey Ochsner? I peg it at about $85 billion, just because of the security provisions that will be in the contracts the unaccountable board uses to sell about $7.5 billion more of long term bonds. That's the most current estimate of how much more long term bonds would need to be sold for ST2; otherwise the financing plan is a black-box work-in-progress. NO other region imposes scores of billions of dollars of sales taxes just as security for a mountain of long term debt like that to pay for light rail. Want to try explaining to everyone how and why that massive tax confiscation scheme might be justified? And no, some spot upzoning near train stations does not provide any justification -- that's just socializing costs to increase a handful of developers' profits.

crossrip

Posted Mon, May 6, 12:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Oh Jesus. Don't get your panties in a bunch over this. Devleopment is increased around some light rail stations - conclusion: can't be related to light rail. Development doesn't occur around light rail stations: Promises broken! Brother.

Treker

Posted Wed, May 8, 10:20 a.m. Inappropriate

Ranting about Atlanta seems to me to have little or no relevance to Seattle. Atlanta is certainly no beacon of good land use planning.

For years people bitched about BART. Then BART workers went on strike and the Bay Area was paralyzed. People came to realize how, over time, BART had come to serve a substantial number of users, to accommodate urban growth. and to become integral to the transportation network of the Bay Area.

By the way, the rail system in Atlanta is heavy rail not light rail.

Posted Sat, May 11, 11:54 a.m. Inappropriate

Crossrip,
Little use trying to get the development community, aka the growth coalition, to own up to "rising all boats," which you will note they are careful only to imply, meaning any more than "after we get out whatever we can get, what's left over is yours provided you can get the government to pay for all the housing we can not afford to build for you."

Read their responses, they studiously avoid your concern for ordinary people, including the poor, and stick tight to either the sales job for steel track or Knute's idle comparison of Canada's sole, West Coast commercial metropolis with a rising near-suburb of late out-designing its inner-ring city. They ignore David Brewster too.

afreeman

Posted Mon, May 13, 11:38 a.m. Inappropriate

"home prices there dropped more in the 2008 - 2012 period than anywhere else in the country."

And selecting the 2008-2012 timeframe for analysis of property values in order to derive their meaning GLOBALLY for Transit Oriented Development wouldn't be flawed or anything.

That's like basing your analysis of the free market's ability to provide satisfactory returns on retirement investments on the 1929-1933 timeframe. Honestly... do you believe that your sample of real estate data could be slightly flawed given you continue to select data from a slice of time that saw the GREATEST COLLAPSE IN PROPERTY VALUES in the US in a generation?

nullbull

Posted Mon, May 13, 12:18 p.m. Inappropriate

And selecting the 2008-2012 timeframe for analysis of property values in order to derive their meaning GLOBALLY for Transit Oriented Development wouldn't be flawed or anything.

You're misrepresenting the point I made. In Atlanta home prices dropped more in the 2008 - 2012 period than anywhere else in the country. Atlanta had had a mature light rail system up and running for decades, yet it did not help that economy of that city or the value of real estate in that region compared to the 98% of the country that does not have commuter rail systems that are 20+ years old. Again, light rail did not serve the people of Atlanta well then, it is not serving 98% of the people in Seattle well, and it likely won't serve the people of Bellevue well either.

Now, try to set aside your fan-boy biases, and provide data that might suggest Sound Transit and the light rail it proposes to build out would be worthwhile, taking into consideration the massive tax costs to individuals and families here. I peg those tax costs at about $85 billion, due to the security provisions that will be in the contracts the unaccountable board intends on using to sell about $7.5 billion more of long term bonds. NO other region imposes scores of billions of dollars of sales taxes just as security for a mountain of long term debt like that to pay for light rail. Want to try explaining to everyone how and why that massive tax confiscation scheme might be justified? And no, some apartments that eventually are built after spot upzoning near train stations do not provide any justification -- that's just socializing costs to increase a handful of developers' profits.

crossrip

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »