South Seattle is by far the most racially diverse area of the city, one that has welcomed many immigrant communities over the years. And unlike North, Central and West Seattle, the South End was the only part of the city where white people did not make up the largest racial/ethnic group.
That is no longer the case.
According to the most recent census data, white people are now the largest racial/ethnic group in the South End, surpassing people of Asian descent.
The data, which averages the years 2013 to 2017, shows there are about 31,000 white people in the area of Seattle south of Interstate 90, up by about 5,700 since 2010. The rate of increase of white people far outpaced the total population growth for this section of the city.
Even so, white people are still not the majority in the South End, comprising a little less than a third of the population. That’s up from about 28% in 2010. In this highly diverse area, no single racial/ethnic group constitutes a majority. That’s a demographic characteristic of the South End that remains distinct from North, Central and West Seattle, where white people represent well over half of the total.
This change in the South End is, of course, largely a story of gentrification. It’s a process that has played out in countless big-city neighborhoods around the country. As more affluent and highly educated people have discovered the appeal of urban life, they’ve moved into centrally located but poorer areas of cities. Property values and rents go up, and original residents sometimes find themselves priced out.
Many neighborhoods in Seattle have felt the effects of gentrification in recent years, including those in South Seattle. Light rail opened here in 2009, which made the South End a more attractive location to downtown commuters. As you’d expect, the cost of living has gone up a lot. Rent increases in some neighborhoods, like Columbia City and North Beacon Hill, have been among the highest in the city since 2010, according to Zillow Rental Index data.
Gentrification doesn’t always have a racial component, and Seattle has a couple of good examples of this: Ballard and Capitol Hill. Both neighborhoods were predominantly white before gentrification took hold. And in fact, census data shows that these neighborhoods have actually become a little more diverse in recent years, even as they’ve gentrified.
But more often than not in big American cities, gentrification has been characterized by an influx of more affluent, white residents, and the displacement of poorer people and people of color. We’ve certainly seen this in Seattle, too.
In 1970, Seattle’s Central District was nearly three-quarters black. Today, it’s about 15% black, and the majority of residents are white. The Chinatown/International District is currently grappling with displacement issues as it gentrifies.
Until the current decade, Asian people were the largest racial/ethnic group in South Seattle. If you go back to the 2000 census, Asian people made up 40% of the population. That number has dropped steadily since then. The most recent data puts Asian people as the second-largest group, at 30% of the population. The Asian population in the South End totals about 29,000, a slight decline since 2010.
Black people, the third-largest group, now make up about 21% of the South End’s residents, down from 23% in 2010. But both Latino and multiracial people increased in their share of the population since the start of the decade.
The neighborhoods in South Seattle with the biggest increases in the white population are Beacon Hill/Mount Baker and Othello — areas near light rail stations, where there has been a lot of new development.
Even the parts of the South End that were already predominantly white in 2010 — Seward Park, Mount Baker and Georgetown — have all seen significant increases in the share of the population that is white, the data shows.
South Seattle is the only section of the city that has gotten whiter since the start of the decade. Census data shows that in North, Central and West Seattle, the population has gotten more diverse since 2010, as people of color grew in number at a faster rate than white people.
Overall, the city of Seattle has gradually diversified this decade, with the white population dropping from 66% of the total in 2010 to 64% in 2017, according to census estimates. Even so, among the 50 largest cities in the U.S., Seattle remains the fifth whitest.