As it turned out, I had pretty good timing.
When I started writing about the changes in Seattle almost 10 years ago, little I could have known was that the city would turn out to be the demographic dynamo of the decade.
We have grown faster than any other major US city as thousands of young adults flocked here from all over the world. We became a much more affluent place, but the wealth gap also widened. And – at least in some parts of the region – racial diversity has increased enormously.
Where have some of the most dramatic changes been in Seattle and King Counties?
To find out, I compared the end of the decade data for King County’s census data to the comparable 2010 census, focusing on a handful of demographics.
Here are the neighborhoods that stand out.
King County started the decade less racially diverse than the United States as a whole and ended the decade as (slightly) more diverse. Not everywhere in the county diversified at the same rate. Interestingly, the increase was more pronounced in many suburbs than in Seattle.
The East Side, in particular, became more racially diverse in the 2010s as both Bellevue and Redmond became cities with more than half the population of people of color. The Asian population on the East Side saw the most dramatic growth rate, in large part due to our technology boom, which attracted large numbers of immigrants from Asian countries.
No location in King County saw a more dramatic increase in diversity in the 2010s than a census area in West Bellevue (south of downtown, between Bellevue Way Southeast and I-405). At the beginning of the decade, this area had a solid racial majority – approximately 75% of the area’s residents were white. Notably, that number had dropped to 38% by the end of the decade.
There is no longer a racial majority in this area, although the Asian population is the largest at 39%. The region’s white population, which tends to be older, declined in the 2010s, while the Asian population quadrupled and the Hispanic population more than doubled.
Many American cities made a comeback in the 2010s as young professionals and wealthy nests flocked to their urban cores. This led to soaring property values and rents that sometimes crowded out the original residents – in other words, gentrification.
Seattle has been named one of the best-equipped cities in the last decade. Among the various metrics used to identify gentrification, property values are one of the most common.
Nowhere in the city of Seattle was this measure more gentrified than in the census area, which includes North Beacon Hill and part of Judkins Park. (Note: I’ve only used census areas with at least 500 condominiums.)
In 2010, census data showed that the median house value here was just over $ 300,000 (not adjusted for inflation) – the median is the middle, meaning half the houses were higher and half the houses were lower. By the end of the decade, that median home value nearly doubled to about $ 589,000.
The older condominiums in this census area are all single-family homes. Over the past two decades, data has shown that residential construction has been more inconsistent between single-family homes, townhouses, and condominiums.
Second to North Beacon Hill is the area east and south of the Seattle University campus in the Central District and First Hill neighborhoods. Home values here rose by 90% between 2010 and 2019.
Millennials, that large generation of young adults born in the 1980s and 1990s, got their money’s worth in the 2010s. A handful of American cities became millennial magnets over the decade, including Seattle. While almost the entire nation was aging in the 2010s, the median age in King County declined, largely due to the millennial influx.
Seattle’s Westlake neighborhood, which runs on the west side of Lake Union, saw the largest increase in the proportion of young adults. This area is a stone’s throw from South Lake Union and the Amazon campus (this census area also includes part of the eastern slope of Queen Anne).
In 2010, 36% of the region’s residents were between 25 and 34 years old. By 2019 it was 52% – a quarter with a thousand-year majority.
The Westlake neighborhood also has the highest percentage of millennials in King County at 52%. However, two other census areas are also above 50% for the population aged 25 to 34 years. Both cover parts of the Pike Pine area in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.
Millennials weren’t attracted everywhere in Seattle. In the Georgetown neighborhood, 25 to 34 year olds have fallen from 35% to 23% of the total population over the past decade. This area got older as the average age of the residents rose from 33.5 years to 43 years.
In 2019, for the first time in about 100 years, Seattle became a city with the majority of renters – that is, more people lived in rental apartments than condominiums. There was a tremendous boom in housing construction in the 2010s, mostly in central Seattle and other neighborhoods that were earmarked for greater density.
Between 2010 and 2019, seven of Seattle’s 121 census areas switched from owner-majority to tenant-majority status. These areas were scattered across the city to the north, west, and south of Seattle. But one of the biggest increases in tenants was in an area in 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, has seen many changes over the decade. Most of it became white, house values rose by 45% and many younger people moved in.
Around 1,800 residents – slightly less than half of the people living here – rented their houses in 2010. By 2019 the number of tenants had grown to almost 2,700 and they now make up around 62% of the population. Of all Seattle census areas that were the majority rented in the 2010s, this area has the highest percentage of renters.
Cars per capita
For much of the last decade, our era of tremendous population growth, Seattle added cars as quickly as people. This increase in the “population” of our cars has finally flattened out in recent years.
Even so, we have an enormous number of cars in our 84 square mile city: roughly 460,000 of them. On a per capita basis, there are more than 600 cars for every 1,000 city dwellers.
But some places in the area have bucked the trend for more vehicles, and I’m happy to highlight the most notable of them.
In the census area in the heart of Capitol Hill in Seattle, the number of cars per 1,000 population fell from 577 to 399. This is a 31% decrease, the largest of any census area. The Capitol Hill light rail station, which opened in 2016, is located in this area.
It shows that many people are willing to drive without a car when people live in walkable areas with good transit and car sharing options – and when owning a car becomes too expensive and tedious.
It’s not just in the city of Seattle either. After Capitol Hill, the second largest drop in cars per capita was in the Robinswood neighborhood of Bellevue, where many of the Bellevue College students live.
Note on the data: Since the census areas are small, the Census Bureau uses an average of five years of data to produce its annual estimates in order to obtain a larger sample. So, the 2019 data for census data is the average from 2016 to 2019, and the data for 2010 is the average from 2006 to 2010.