Driven by tech hiring — particularly by Amazon — the city’s growth is as fast as it’s ever been.
In this city famous for its booms — and occasional busts — how does the current Amazon-driven population surge stack up?
Well, since 2010 — the year Amazon consolidated operations in South Lake Union and began its hiring spree — Seattle has gained 14,511 people per year, on average, according to census data. The biggest growth spurt occurred from 2012 to 2013, when Seattle added about 18,000 residents, making us the fastest-growing big city in the country for that period.
It’s a tremendous increase from the most recent Seattle booms.
A new hardcover book captures the city’s rich heritage from the late 1880s through 1939.
Pre-order it at http://bit.ly/1ggrqxn.
In the period of Microsoft’s ascendancy, starting in the mid-1980s, and the subsequent dot-com boom of the late 1990s, population gains were far more modest. Even during Boeing’s heyday in the post-World War II era, Seattle’s population bumped up by less than 10,000 per year.
You have to go all the way back to the first decade of the 20th century, in the period right after the Klondike Gold Rush, for a time when Seattle grew faster than it has in the last few years. Between 1900 and 1910, Seattle added more than 15,000 people annually, tripling the city’s population.
But according to Lorraine McConaghy, public historian emeritus at MOHAI, it’s not an entirely fair comparison: “The 1900-1910 population boom is clouded, so to speak, by the annexation boom,” she says.
While there was significant immigration into the city in that decade, Seattle also greatly increased its population by gobbling up surrounding areas, including Ballard, West Seattle and much of South Seattle.
Since we haven’t annexed anything lately, the current population surge is very likely the biggest ever in terms of the number of new arrivals.
Where did all these new folks wind up living?
Not surprisingly, the two census tracts that cover South Lake Union and the adjacent Denny Triangle areas rank first and third for population gain. Ballard, the University District, parts of Central Seattle and Rainier Valley are also among top growth areas. But other neighborhoods, particularly in North Seattle, haven’t changed much at all.
In at least one way, our current boom is a lot like all the previous ones: Whenever a surge of new folks move here, you can count on the “native” Seattleites to complain about it.
These days, Amazon employees bear the brunt of local anger about soaring rents and gentrification. But according to McConaghy, it’s nothing new. “All big demographic or population changes made Seattle people who were here before the change uneasy,” she explained. During the Gold Rush era, for example, Seattleites complained that we’d become “a city of strangers” as 100,000 people stayed only briefly in Seattle before embarking for Alaska.
“It isn’t the reality of population and demographic change that makes people uneasy, it is their perceptions that do. It’s the sense of lost character and lost familiarity, the threat of the other,” McConaghy says.