Is the Seattle boom about to implode?

Downtown Seattle

Downtown Seattle

The latest national traffic congestion list just came out, and the Seattle area ranked No. 7. That’s really no surprise to folks who live in the isthmus that is Seattle. But it’s likely going to get a lot worse. People are pouring in here for jobs, and the infrastructure just isn’t ready for ’em. The city is becoming a poster child for inept urban planning.

In their infinite wisdom, city and state leaders are working on a project that will will reduce from six to four the number of lanes on one of the only two north-south limited-access roads in Seattle. (That is, if the project is every completed; this is the famous Tunnel Sinking Seattle.) While somewhat extensive, the mass transit system is slow and inefficient, even when mudslides don’t shut down the only commuter railroad from north of the city, as they have hundreds of times over the past decade.

Meanwhile, The Seattle Times just came out against a proposal on the November ballot to raise taxes for transit purposes. The paper pointed out the large number of mismanaged, delayed and over-budget infrastructure projects that adorn the Seattle area, like Starbucks coffee shops.

High-rise buildings, mainly office, are going up like crazy in the city’s hottest commercial zone–the South Lake Union area–and there doesn’t seem to be any good plan for moving people to and from their jobs. There’s a single street car line through it that barely runs one mile, connecting Amazon’s world headquarters in the center with a cancer research center at one end and the Nordstrom’s flagship store near the other. Great if you need a wig after your chemo and need a connection for your Kindle download.

Meanwhile, cookie-cutter apartment high-rises asking ridiculously high rents for tiny spaces are going up along almost every single arterial street, sometimes for miles at a stretch. But not nearly fast enough to absorb the net 15,000 residents that Seattle gained last year. At the latest estimate (last year) the city’s population was 668,000, 58,000 more than the folks counted by the census in 2010.

Unlike some other boom-bubble-and-bust areas I lived in during their boom-bubble-and-busts–among them, Houston and Los Angeles–Seattle doesn’t have a large supply of developable vacant land to somewhat keep down housing prices. Blame Puget Sound and Lake Washington for that. The suburbs do, but Mayor Ed Murray is trying to keep all the population growth, and accompanying tax revenues, in Seattle. Hence the asinine and short-lived proposal endorsed by Hizzonor to allow the indiscriminate tearing down of single-family homes in single-family-home neighborhoods and their replacement by triplexes.

At some point something is going to give. It will be interesting to see which does first: Seattle’s status as a nice, interesting place to live, or Amazon, which is responsible for much of the job growth but may be facing widespread pushback from customers for questionable personnel practices.

In my view, the Seattle boom is becoming a bubble. Can the bust be far away?

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Is the Seattle boom about to implode? — 2 Comments

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