As it turned out, I had pretty good timing.
Nearly 10 years ago, when I started writing about the ways in which Seattle was changing, I had no way of knowing that the city would turn out to be the demographic dynamo of the decade.
We grew faster in population than any other major U.S. cities, as thousands of young adults flocked here from all parts of the globe. We became a much more affluent place, but the wealth gap also widened. And — at least in some parts of the region — racial diversity increased tremendously.
Where were some of the most dramatic transformations in Seattle and King County?
To find out, I compared end-of-the-decade data for King County census tracts with the comparable census numbers from 2010, focusing on a handful of demographic factors.
Here are the neighborhoods that stand out.
King County started out the decade less racially diverse than the U.S. as a whole, and ended the decade as (a little) more diverse. Not everywhere in the county diversified at the same rate. Interestingly, the increase was more pronounced in many of the suburban areas than in Seattle itself.
The Eastside, in particular, grew more racially diverse in the 2010s, as both Bellevue and Redmond became cities where people of color make up more than half the population. The Asian population on the Eastside had the most dramatic rate of growth, much of that driven by our tech boom, which drew many immigrants from Asian countries.
No place in King County had a more dramatic increase in diversity in the 2010s than a census tract in West Bellevue (just south of downtown, between Bellevue Way Southeast and I-405). At the start of the decade, this area had a solid racial majority — about 75% of the residents of this area were white. Remarkably, by the end of the decade that number had dropped to 38%.
There is no longer a racial majority group in this tract, although the Asian population is largest at 39%. The area’s white population, which tends to be older, declined in the 2010s, while the Asian population increased fourfold and the Hispanic population more than doubled.
Many American cities made a comeback in the 2010s, as young professionals and affluent empty-nesters flooded into their urban cores. This led to rising property values and rents, which sometimes displaced the original residents — in other words, gentrification.
Seattle has been called one of the most gentrified cities of the last decade. Among the various metrics used to identify gentrification, one of the most common is property values.
By that measure, nowhere in the city of Seattle gentrified more than the census tract that includes North Beacon Hill and a bit of the Judkins Park neighborhood. (Note: I used only census tracts with at least 500 owner-occupied housing units.)
In 2010, census data shows the median home value here was just over $300,000 (not adjusted for inflation) — the median is the midway point, meaning half the homes had a higher value and half were lower. By the end of the decade, that median home value nearly doubled to about $589,000.
The older owner-occupied homes in this census tract are all single-family homes. Over the past two decades, the data shows home construction has been more mixed between single-family homes, town homes and condominiums.
Second behind North Beacon Hill is the area to the east and south of the Seattle University campus, in the Central District and First Hill neighborhoods. Owner-occupied home values increased by 90% here between 2010 and 2019.
Millennials, that large generation of young adults who were born in the 1980s and 1990s, came into their own during the 2010s. A handful of U.S. cities became millennial magnets during the decade, Seattle among them. In fact, while nearly all of the nation was growing older in the 2010s, the median age in King County declined, largely because of the millennial influx.
The Westlake neighborhood in Seattle, which runs along the west side of Lake Union, had the biggest increase in the percentage of young adults. This area is just a stone’s throw from South Lake Union and the Amazon campus (this census tract also includes some of the eastern slope of Queen Anne).
In 2010, 36% of the area’s residents were between the ages of 25 and 34. By 2019, it was 52% — a millennial majority neighborhood.
At 52%, the Westlake neighborhood also has the highest percentage of millennials of anywhere in King County. But two other census tracts are also above 50% for the population aged 25-34. They both include sections of the Pike-Pine area in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.
Not everywhere in Seattle attracted millennials. In the Georgetown neighborhood, 25- to 34-year-olds dropped from 35% to 23% of the total population during the last decade. This area got older, as the median age of residents jumped from 33.5 years to 43 years.
In 2019, for the first time in about 100 years, Seattle became a renter-majority city — that is, there were more people living in rentals than in owner-occupied homes. Over the 2010s, there was a tremendous boom in apartment construction, mainly in central Seattle and other neighborhoods zoned for greater density.
Between 2010 and 2019, seven of Seattle’s 121 census tracts moved from owner-majority to renter-majority status. These areas were scattered across the city, in north, west and south Seattle. But one of the biggest increases in renters was in an area of Central Seattle.
The Central District’s Cherry Hill area (the census tract runs between East Yesler Way and East Marion Street), a historically Black neighborhood, saw a lot of changes over the course of the decade. It became majority white, home values shot up 45% and a lot of younger people moved in.
Around 1,800 residents — a little less than half of the people living here — were renting their homes in 2010. By 2019, the number of renters grew to nearly 2,700, and they now make up about 62% of the population. Of all the Seattle census tracts that became majority renter in the 2010s, this one has the highest percentage of renters.
Cars per capita
For much of the last decade, during our period of tremendous population growth, Seattle was adding cars as fast as people. That increase in our car “population” finally leveled off in the last couple of years.
Even so, we have a tremendous number of cars squished into our 84-square-mile city: roughly 460,000 of them. On a per capita basis, we have more than 600 cars for every 1,000 city residents.
But some places in the area have bucked the trend toward more vehicles, and I’m happy to highlight the most notable of these.
In the census tract in the heart of Seattle’s Capitol Hill, the number of cars dropped from a rate of 577 per 1,000 residents to 399. That’s a 31% decline, the largest of any census tract. This area includes the Capitol Hill light-rail station that opened in 2016.
It shows that when people live in walkable neighborhoods with good transit and car-sharing options — and when a owning car becomes a big enough expense and hassle — many are willing to go car-less.
It’s not just in the city of Seattle, either. After Capitol Hill, the second biggest decline in cars per capita was in the Robinswood neighborhood of Bellevue, where many Bellevue College students live.
A note on the data: Because census tracts are small areas, in order to get a larger sample, the Census Bureau averages five years worth of data to produce its annual estimates. So the 2019 data for census tracts represents the average of the years 2016 to 2019, and the 2010 data represents the average of the years 2006-2010.