Discuss: Seattle is growing too slowly

An urban analyst puts Seattle in the group of 'Static Cities.' Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?
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An urban analyst puts Seattle in the group of 'Static Cities.' Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

Seattle is in a lather about growth and congestion and housing prices. Maybe we need to take two small doses of perspective and feel better about the whole thing in the morning. The first thing to keep in mind is that Seattle, the city not the region, is actually not growing very fast. During 1990s, Seattle was the, er, 96th-fastest growing city in the country, with a decade-long growth of only 47,000, or 9.1 percent. Portland, by contrast, added 92,000 people in the decade. The Portland metropolitan statistical area added 403,000 people in the decade while Seattle's metro area grew by 381,000. At the end of the booming 1990s, Seattle had become the 23rd-largest city in the nation, just behind El Paso. Michael Barone, writing in The Wall Street Journal, provides a second dose of perspective, putting Seattle (and Portland) in his category of "Static Cities" that are "holding their own economically, but are not surging ahead and some are in danger of falling back." Joining the list with Seattle are urban sisters not normally in our family: Philadelphia, Baltimore, Hartford, Providence, Denver, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Columbus, Indianapolis, Norfolk, Memphis, Louisville, Birmingham, and (get this, Sonics fans) Oklahoma City. Barone's anatomy of cities looks at the Census figures of 2000-2006, with attention to the flow of population groups, particularly the domestic population and the immigrant population. Static cities like Seattle have modest domestic inflow (up to 3 percent), moderate immigrant inflow (up to 4 percent), and small domestic outflow (no higher than 1 percent). Barone's analysis produces one major surprise. The hip coastal cities that are supposedly growth magnets (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, Miami, San Diego, and non-coastal Chicago) are experiencing significant domestic outflows (San Francisco's is the highest, at 10 percent) and high immigrant inflows. The result is a widening economic gap in these two-tiered cities, with affluent populations paying high prices for houses and a large, mostly immigrant working class passing around canapes at the rich folks' parties. The real gainers, Barone finds, are what he calls Interior Boomtowns, with strong domestic inflows presumably fleeing the overpriced Coastal Megalopolises. The big gainers are Las Vegas, the Inland Empire of California (Riverside and San Bernadino counties), Orlando, Charlotte, Phoenix, Tampa, Dallas, Houston, Austin, Sacramento, and Raleigh. Interior state capitols like Boise or college towns like Tucson are also gainers. The migration to interior cities is driven by the need for less congestion, cheaper housing, good schools, recreation, and safety. Bend, Ore., attracting young retirees from the Bay Area and rainy Portland and Seattle, is another example of a fast-growing interior West city. But if Seattle is not a growth town, it is certainly not in decline. All its major employers are hiring. By coming out of the recession later than other parts of the country, it avoided building too fast, leading to a sharp correction in housing. So get used to a new slogan: Seattle, a static kind of place.


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