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    Local growth is strong, healthy and ... a bit surprising

    The growth isn't as rapid as the buzz indicates. And it's certainly not where you think it is.
    The vast majority of the Seattle region's growth is taking place outside the city itself.

    The vast majority of the Seattle region's growth is taking place outside the city itself. Clappstar/Flickr

    Recent news that the Census Bureau had named Seattle the fastest growing large city in America generated quite a buzz. A generation ago, this report might have elicited groans and cries for growth controls, but this time it was greeted with approval. Growth, it seems, is no longer such a dirty word in Seattle.

    But, to a large degree, the stories missed the point. The report referred only to growth in the population within the Seattle city limits. Rapid growth in Seattle proper tells us that many households prefer to live in the city — a very good thing, considering the decades of decline in central cities across the country — but tells us little else.

    To really understand growth we need to look at the larger picture of the metropolitan area. Puget Sound is not noted as a retirement community, so population growth will closely follow job growth. Employment tends to spread out across the region, and since most people do not live in the same city where they work, it is hard to evaluate growth in anything but a regional context.

    Before jumping into regional growth, it is worth noting that the relationship between central cities and their larger metro regions varies widely around the country. In some regions, either through city-county mergers or just aggressive annexation, the bulk of the population lives in the central city. For example, the cities of San Antonio and Jacksonville have over 60 percent of their region’s population. At the other end of the spectrum, the cities of Miami and Atlanta contain less than 10 percent of their region’s population. Seattle, with just 18 percent of the population of the Seattle-Tacoma-Everett Metropolitan Statistical Area falls on the small side of central cities. Boston, which Seattle recently passed in city size, has an even smaller share, at 14 percent.

    While the Seattle metropolitan statistical area is not the fastest growing large metro area in the country, it is in a respectable position. In the three years from the 2010 census through 2013, greater Seattle has grown 5 percent, making it the 12th fastest growing of metro areas with more than 1 million people. Out of the 11 large metro areas that have grown faster than Seattle, only two — Washington, D.C. and Denver — are outside of the Sunbelt. Seattle, moreover, has been growing faster than any other large metro area on the West Coast.

    In the past few decades, successful metro areas have tended to follow one of two distinct patterns, demonstrating either quantitative or qualitative growth. In what we might call the Sunbelt pattern, a very business-friendly climate and a low cost of living have attracted large employers in relatively low-wage industries. These areas tend to experience high population growth (quantitative) but lower growth in average wages (qualitative).

    What we might call the Coastal pattern is the opposite. The combination of high wages and a restrictive development environment raises the cost of living and doing business. These areas tend to experience slower population growth but high average wage growth.

    Curiously, the Seattle region seems to follow both patterns. Only one other metro area, Washington, D.C., has experienced both higher average wages and higher population growth. A few other regions are in the ballpark of Seattle, such as Denver and Houston (both benefiting from the national energy boom). So, how has the Seattle metro area pulled this off?

    Several factors seem to have allowed the Seattle region to grow both quantitatively and qualitatively. The first is the magic of the multiplier effect, though which local jobs are created as a result of new jobs in the so-called traded sector (those industries with customers outside the area). The average multiplier in the region is about 3.5, meaning that for every new job in the traded sector, another 2.5 jobs spring up in retail, local government, real estate, healthcare etc. But Microsoft, with its abundant local outsourcing and its well-paid, free-spending employees, yields a multiplier of nearly seven, meaning that every new Microsoft job creates almost six other jobs. 

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    Posted Wed, Jul 2, 8:14 a.m. Inappropriate

    Emmett Watson just groaned and rolled over.


    Posted Wed, Jul 2, 9:58 a.m. Inappropriate

    > Several factors seem to have allowed the Seattle region to grow both quantitatively and qualitatively

    Maybe in Mr. Luis' turf, Medina . . . in the Green Lake, Phinney, Greenwood area of Seattle traffic on local arterials has become worse with each passing year, and lines of cars now exist when even just a decade ago they didn't . . . meanwhile, the cost of housing has become prohibitive for many people, and increasingly they can't afford to live in the city.

    Mr. Luis has no idea what he is talking about . . .

    Posted Wed, Jul 2, 10:55 a.m. Inappropriate

    You must have given up before reaching the last two lines:

    " But nearly all of those 1.7 million new people are going to live outside the city. We can celebrate Seattle’s success, but not for long. We have too much work to do across the region."

    In other words, Luis sees PSRC's 2008 "trend-bending" plan taking a predictable bend in the opposite direction given the Growth Management Act's invitation to push "urban containment" far beyond that originally intended.


    Posted Wed, Jul 2, 11:06 a.m. Inappropriate

    No, I didn't . . . he's talking about the 1.7 million projected to arrive over the next 25 years . . . I'm talking about the claim, "Several factors seem to have allowed the Seattle region to grow both quantitatively and qualitatively" . . . not in our neighborhoods in the north end.

    Posted Wed, Jul 2, 10:06 a.m. Inappropriate

    At this point, Luis would do a service to write about regional planning. IMO, PSRC is as incompetent as 'all' Seattle area transportation planning agencies, Metro, Sound Transit, Sdot, and worst of all Wsdot. Seattle transportation planning is among the worst in the nation. Terrible traffic, pitifully insufficient public transit, crumbling sidewalks, unsafe crosswalks, bicycle at your own risk.

    Regional planning is the next step of New Urbanism; the two philosophies integrated. However, Sound Transit still plans to construct Link LRT stations as little more than parking lots/structures and noisy polluting bus transit centers. Metro likewise falls short of its mandate to implement an effective transit system aligned with regional development principles.

    And one more time before it's too f'n late, Wsdot's controversial bore tunnel project will inexorably destabilize waterfront soil beneath vulnerable historic and modern downtown Seattle buildings, causing damage beyond repair, forcing demolition, and in earthquake sudden collapse with a death toll in the hundreds even thousands! A horrific prediction ignored because Seattle transportation planners and transport-dependent business have a bullish confidence that won't be detered while there's money to accumulate and burn.


    Posted Wed, Jul 2, 10:31 a.m. Inappropriate

    Very good, interesting article. Thank you Crosscut. Thank you for noting the "barbell" phenomenon which we have luckily (mostly) avoided.


    Posted Wed, Jul 2, 10:31 a.m. Inappropriate

    Very good, interesting article. Thank you Crosscut. Thank you for noting the "barbell" phenomenon which we have luckily (mostly) avoided.


    Posted Wed, Jul 2, 12:09 p.m. Inappropriate

    Michael Luis: "If the region’s historic growth rate of about 1.5 percent continues to hold..."

    Al Bartlett: "The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function." [See http://www.albartlett.org/books/essential_exponential.html]


    Posted Wed, Jul 2, 3:11 p.m. Inappropriate

    "Residents within the Seattle city limits can pat themselves on the back for creating such an attractive place to live. But nearly all of those 1.7 million new people are going to live outside the city. We can celebrate Seattle’s success, but not for long. We have too much work to do across the region."

    So, what exactly is the "Seattle Metropolitan Area"? All of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties? That seems to be defining it rather broadly. Is Mt. Rainier National Park really part of the Seattle Metropolitan area? The real story here seems to be that all of the East and South Sound area is growing faster than Seattle.


    Posted Wed, Jul 2, 3:49 p.m. Inappropriate

    The Tribes might want to rethink their commitment to the Democrat Party. So might "environmentalists" (at least the self-thinking ones). Growth in the region, largely the result of the Democrat's immigration policies, will destroy the area's environmental health. Researchers at Oregon State University have determined the NUMBER ONE THREAT to Pacific Northwest salmon and their habitats is increased immigration into the region, the vast majority of which comes from outside the U.S. and Canada.


    Posted Thu, Jul 3, 8:40 a.m. Inappropriate

    I have a hard time believing that the majority doesn't come from California.


    Posted Thu, Jul 3, 9:45 a.m. Inappropriate

    many might come THROUGH California, but our state's population growth is fueled by foreign-born immigrants.

    Foreign-born immigrants accounted for 6.6% of Washington's population in 1990. In 2010, foreign-born immigrants accounted for 13.1 %.


    read 'em and weep. Thanks tribes, thanks "environmentalists". Your lock-step alliance with the Democrat Party is destroying our environment(not to mention overwhelming our social institutions).


    Posted Thu, Jul 3, 2:51 p.m. Inappropriate

    A lot of those foreign-born immigrants came here after university in other states, including California. And a lot of those foreign-born immigrants are 2nd or 3rd generation born here in the US.

    The majority of people moving into King County are moving in from other Washington State Counties, and other US states, not other countries.

    What is truly unfortunate is the level of increasing poverty in so many counties in our state because the GMA wants job and growth concentration in one main geographic area (even though the claim is 'all cities').

    King County is crowded and getting more crowed, because this is where the jobs are. Our corporate giants would do well to consider job centers in rural counties who desperately need job growth.

    Posted Thu, Jul 3, 7:54 p.m. Inappropriate

    "job centers in rural counties" conflicts with the urbanist agenda.


    Posted Mon, Jul 7, 7:17 a.m. Inappropriate

    Common1"Sense", LoopLoop,

    The reason that corporations choose large, dense cities rather than rural ones is TALENT! There aren't many JSP coders in Ellensburg or Yakima.

    One of the most laughable tendencies for wingers is to think that the sorts of mundane things they do actually creates wealth. Selling made-in-China crap and franchise hamburgers to one another is just not the same as creating a new App that makes the lives of some non-trivial percentage of the world's population easier.

    THAT's wealth creation, and Libertarian narcissists like Elon Musk notwithstanding, the vast majority of people in the tech industry have nothing but contempt for the blinkered, science-adverse bloviations of "conservatives".


    Posted Tue, Jul 8, 7:44 a.m. Inappropriate

    The GMA has nothing to do with why cities attract jobs - employers want a skilled workforce and will set up shop where their employees want to live - areas that are vibrant, have decent transportation systems, music, arts, etc.

    North Bend can expand its UGA if the demand is there. But it's not, and will not be - ever! That's simply how it works. Why in dog's name would Google, or anyone else, set up a campus in North Bend when all its employees want to live in Seattle. Pretty simple really.


    Posted Tue, Jul 8, 8:12 a.m. Inappropriate

    commonsense needs to do more research. Educated immigrants don't come here illegally and most figures show that a couple hundred thousand at minimum have come here illegally. And of those more than half have less than a high school education, besides limited language capability. And the biggest factor in this state's population growth--by far---is immigration, and that means from other countries.
    And immigrants come to urban areas disproportionally because of sanctuary policies, welcoming infrastructure, education opportunities, benefits, and jobs.
    And Obama's recent activities have created a huge influx of illegals. The Obama Administration bypassed Congress and gave work permits to hundreds of thousands of younger illegal aliens two years ago. The number storming our border has increased rapidly as the news media have trumpeted around the world that if Congress doesn't pass an even-larger amnesty the Administration will grant the amnesty on its own.The lure of lax border security and unenforced deportation laws are the magnets involved. Word has gotten out that very few of the tens of thousands of Central Americans apprehended by the Border Patrol or ICE in recent years have been sent home, and that the number of juveniles deported has declined significantly since 2008, despite the increased number of minors arriving.
    Obama Administration officials have acknowledged the number of unaccompanied minors has increased roughly ten-fold since 2011 — the year before DACA (the DREAM Act) began — to an estimated 60,000 for FY2014, and that was before the recent influx.

    Posted Mon, Jul 7, 9:54 a.m. Inappropriate

    This article starts out by making a false claim. It states: "Recent news that the Census Bureau had named Seattle the fastest growing large city in America generated quite a buzz."

    Was the part about "[generating] a buzz" in error? No, as this article itself provides an example.

    Was the part claiming "the Census Bureau had named Seattle the fastest growing large city in America" in error? Yes, most definitely! The Census Bureau has issued no such finding. It's the Seattle Times writer of the story which is linked to in the article who made the claim--like so many others published locally--specifically designed to flatter local egos. The writer based his claim on his own cherry-picking of census data to reach this ego-stroking conclusion, and local journalists, not wanting to be left out of the back-slapping selflovefest, have gleefully gone along with it.

    Provincialism at its worst!

    Posted Mon, Jul 7, 4:11 p.m. Inappropriate

    The Times writer (a respected researcher, by the way) wrote specifically, "Last year, Seattle grew faster than any other major American city..."

    That is backed up by the census data.


    Posted Tue, Jul 8, 7:54 a.m. Inappropriate

    What this article describes is clearly unsustainable.
    Here is the definition sustainability must have if future generations are to enjoy at least a little of what has given the present generation quality of life: A sustainable population is one that can survive over the long term (thousands to tens of thousands of years) without either running out of resources or damaging its environmental niche (in our case the planet) in the process. This means that our numbers and level of activity must not generate more waste than natural processes can return to the biosphere, that the wastes we do generate do not harm the biosphere, and that most of the resources we use are either renewable through natural processes or are entirely recycled if they are not renewable.
    A sustainable population must not grow past the point where those natural limits are breached. Using these criteria it is obvious that the current population of this area is not sustainable. Complexity develops because it can, and the factor facilitating this is surplus energy, some thing that is rapidly disappearing today. Energy precedes complexity and allows it to emerge. Technological improvements can only relieve whatever misery that has resulted from over-population for a while, for as long as misery is the only check on population, the improvement will enable population to grow, and will soon enable more people to live in misery than before. There is one variable that is consistent with all civilizational collapses, over-population. The increased complexity (involving differentiation in structure and increasing organization) of societies carries a metabolic cost. In non-human species this is a straightforward matter of additional calories. Among humans the cost is calculated in such currencies as resources. Consequently the major indicators of sustainability are population growth, and rates of ecological degradation, and resource depletion.

    What most undermines any possibility of achieving sustainability is the assumption, built into capitalistic and socialistic societies, that unlimited growth is possible; mankind’s demise will probably occur because of the availability of conditioned-reflex responses that develop more complex technologies, establish new institutions, add more specialists or bureaucratic levels to institutions, increase organization or regulation, or gather and process more information. All valued as unique human capabilities that ensure happiness! Pushing for more growth and implementing these strategies is central to all levels of government in the United States, thus depleting what enabled it to gain industrial complexity: the previous surplus energy and abundant ecological diversity that preceded and facilitated the evolution of its complexity.

    Posted Tue, Jul 8, 11:49 a.m. Inappropriate

    Tagentially, but relevant, why don't we abandon the doomed tunnel project and just make both alaska Way and Western Ave. one-way streets...they are all poised for such a move, would swave billions of dollars, and open up the waterfront beautifully! We lso must abandon the notion of closing the road through the arboretum making 23rd even more impossible to navigate. the bike lanes make many streets all but unusable. Only hope the rapid transit openings help us move around!


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