Right now, possibly September 26th specifically, represents the largest amount of new housing construction greater Downtown Seattle has ever had. This is very exciting for those who want Seattle to feel and function like a real big city, with the vibe, services, walkable lifestyles, and so on that entails.
The “largest” is based upon my own napkin count of housing under construction in about 2,000 acres, from Lower Queen Anne and South Lake Union to the dense part of Capitol Hill to First Hill and the stadiums, gerrymandered up to 901 Dexter and 15th & Pine. It’s imprecise but probably errs low, particularly east of I-5. The 2006 in-construction number topped out at 5,500 units. This week, including some projects that just got building permits and have had some sort of recent activity (at least demo), or had DJC coverage about starting this week, the number is 6,400 units. Or call it 6,000, in case some aren’t real starts.
So where does that leave us in that journey to big citydom, or, using the Vancouver example, smaller-but-more-vibrant-in-some-ways citydom?
The Downtown Seattle Association reports 60,000 residents in 2012, based on census tracts that are vaguely similar to the area I described. They call it 20,510 residents per square mile. By comparison, Vancouver’s Downtown Peninsula, in just 1,420 acres, had 99,000 residents in 2011 for a density of 44,387 per square mile. Including Seattle’s recent completions plus the 6,000 units and a normal multiplier, we should end up with 70,000 residents. That’s excellent by US standards for a city our size (roughly double a similar count in Denver or Minneapolis, which are well ahead of Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, and many others), but to reach Vancouver’s Downtown Peninsula density, we’d need 130,000. At Manhattan density, we’d have 210,000.
Whether we’ll continue along this path hardly seems debatable. New construction might outpace demand, briefly. But Amazon and a steady inflow of local employer relocations are expanding greater Downtown’s workforce. Perhaps the most important driver, basic desire to live in the center, should grow as services are added and new residents make neighborhoods feel friendlier, a circular effect. The demographics will be fantastic for a while due to both baby boomers and their kids. And apparently driving to work is never going to be cheap or quick again, making a short walk attractive to more people. Even if people start buying rather than renting, very little supply will be available, particularly condos. And that will kick off more condo projects.
So here’s hoping the boom never ends (!) or at least keeps coming back, preferably with soft landings. And maybe when we hit 80,000 Belltown will have a supermarket and a conveyor-belt sushi place.