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Seattle Times news librarian Gene Balk crunches the numbers

February 24, 2014 at 6:00 AM

Seattle growing faster than suburbs, first time in 100 years

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Click to enlarge

It only took 100 years.

Census data show that for the first time since 1910, Seattle is growing faster than its King County suburbs.

Nobody could have guessed, back in 1910, that suburban growth would soon outpace the city’s. At that point, Seattle’s population had exploded, nearly tripling over the previous 10 years.

But since then, the areas of King County surrounding Seattle have been unstoppable. Decade after decade, the suburbs attracted new residents at a faster clip than the city.

And suburban King County never experienced a population downturn as the city had. While Seattle was losing residents in the 1960s and 1970s — the “Boeing bust” period — King County still experienced double-digit growth.

Although Seattle bounced back in the 1990s and 2000s with healthy population increases, the suburbs grew even faster through those decades.

But then something changed.

Census estimates show that from 2010 to 2011, Seattle and suburban King County grew at almost exactly the same rate.

The most recent data suggest that this wasn’t a fluke. Between 2011 and 2012, Seattle’s population grew at a rate 25 percent faster than that of surrounding King County. During this period, Seattle’s growth rate was 67 percent faster than Bellevue’s.

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Click to enlarge

This reversal isn’t unique to Seattle. Since 2011, most big cities across the country have outpaced their suburbs when it comes to population growth.

Some economists believe it’s just a temporary side-effect of the housing bust, with young Americans unable to take the plunge into homeownership in the suburbs, as their parents had done at that age.

But others think we might be witnessing a major demographic shift, with younger people rejecting a culture of sprawl and car-dependency associated with suburbs, and instead choosing the lifestyle offered by dense, walkable cities.

Signs of Seattle’s success are not difficult to spot. Everywhere you look there seems to be a new apartment building under construction. As reported in The Seattle Times, more apartments were opened in 2013 than in any of the previous 20 years.

And the people needed to fill all those new units are showing up. Seattle gained more than 23,000 residents between 2010 and 2012, for a total population of about 635,000 (King County’s population, not including Seattle, stands at about 1,370,000). Census data show that among the 50 most-populous U.S. cities, Seattle has had the eighth-fastest rate of growth.

Who knows? It may be the beginning of a new, 100-year trend.

Comments | More in Demographics | Topics: Census, population


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