Growing Pains: Seattle Infrastructure Trails Population Growth

2nd_sm.jpgAn article in today’s Seattle Times by Stuart Eskenazi examines the explosive growth in King County housing. In just the past three years, Seattle has achieved more than half of its 20-year targeted housing growth. Makes you wonder what’s in store for the next 17 years?

To my befuddled mind, the article is just the latest addition to a big ole stinky pile of seemingly conflicting statistics about our local real estate market:  sales prices are down, but rents continue their rise; construction starts are down, but housing growth exceeds projections; population influx is up, but infrastructure lags behind. For those poor souls tasked with predicting the future, good luck!

Ballard tops the list for new housing. According to Eskenazi, “Since 2005, Ballard has added 287 units, with a whopping 1,452 more permitted, many almost ready for occupancy. Combined, that’s 174 percent of Ballard’s target of adding 1,000 housing units.” But some Ballard residents question whether the infrastructure, especially public transportation and emergency services, can keep up.

It’s the same in the Central Area, Greenlake, Eastlake and Lower Queen Anne. Close-in space is at a premium and we’ve taken to stacking folks on top of each other. Height restrictions in many of our neighborhoods have been successfully breached. If we can’t continue building out, we just build up instead.

Even with the associated problems of urban density though, I’m mostly for it. Funneling growth into our cities helps keep suburban sprawl down. I much prefer in-fill townhomes to new subdivisions full of tract housing.

I also like the vibe coming off our teaming population. There’s a freshness and vitality I don’t sense in the cities of the East.

Of course, we could use more planning (See Scott’s entry on the Central District News site) . And better consistency in zoning would be good (I can’t turn my garage into an accessory dwelling unit, but I can short plat my lot and build a big new home?!?)

Still, it’s nice to be the go-to place for urban pioneers. It’s a much better position for our city than we experienced during the exodus of the ‘70s. Remember that billboard on the way out of town proclaiming, “Will the Last Person Leaving SEATTLE—Turn Out the Lights.”