I’ll sure miss the rhetorical utility of describing Seattle as “the fastest growing big city in America” now that Austin has seized back that mantle, though we’re still one of the fastest growing big cities in America—tied with Ft. Worth for third—so, whatever. But if you ask me, the Seattle Times piece on the new census numbers kinda buries the lede:
Also in the new data: Seattle grew 77 percent faster than surrounding King County in 2014. This marks the third consecutive year that Seattle has outpaced its suburbs.
This trend is not just remarkable, it is historic. The surrounding areas of King County had been adding population at a faster clip than Seattle for more than 100 years, and it’s not just in Seattle where this trend has reversed: for the first time in many decades, the majority of big American cities are growing faster than their suburbs. And there’s absolutely no reason to expect this trend won’t continue for the near future.
Whatever the reasons for this demographic shift, it is a mixed blessing. Obviously, we want and need our cities to grow more dense. Dense cities are more walkable, sustainable, and energy efficient than suburban sprawl. So we want to encourage urban density. But the flood of newcomers is forcing housing costs up, and shutting many middle and lower income residents out.
Seattle added nearly 15,000 new residents in 2014, nearly 18,000 the year before that, and new construction is not keeping pace with demand. While this imbalance is not the only cause of our growing affordable housing crisis, we obviously need to build more housing—some of it outside the market. And to do this, we’re going to have to deny our NIMBYist instincts that welcome growth everywhere but in our own neighborhoods.
Homeowners love it when their own property values rise. They’ll just have to learn to accept the change that comes with it. And that change must include a taller, denser, and more in-filled Seattle.