Situated along the waters of the Puget Sound, Seattle’s moderate marine climate makes the region a popular destination for tourists, interstate migrants and citizens of Washington. Summers rarely become too hot and winters remain mild. Attractions like the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, Hiram M. Chittenden Locks and Washington Park Arboretum are pleasant regardless of season. Seattle is also a gateway for those seeking leisure and recreation outside the city. Western Washington’s active and violent geologic history shaped the rugged terrain of the outlying region. Oceans, mountains, deserts, old-growth forests and wildflower meadows are all only a few hours by car, bike or shuttle bus.
Seattle is home to some of the world’s largest tech giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and Expedia as well as firms with global supply chains like Costco, Boeing, Paccar, Starbucks and Nordstrom. Abundant job opportunities bring those seeking to live, work and play in a global city like Seattle. The rapid growth of high-tech industries brings a wave of high-wage earners.
Consequently, Seattle’s housing market struggles to meet demand. With the nation’s third largest homeless population, Seattle struggles to deal with the problems that a lack of housing affordability brings.
Gentrification continues to displace people and businesses, impacting the vibrant character of some of the city’s most beloved neighbourhoods. As people are pushed to seek housing well outside of the city, the region’s highway network operates at capacity.
As with many US cities, transportation infrastructure continues to erode and degrade. Seattle is no exception. Susceptible to natural disasters such as earthquakes, flooding and landslides, some of Seattle’s most at-risk structures could fail in the next large-scale seismic event. Regardless of the state’s efforts to raise the necessary funds for retrofitting and rehabilitation, the region implements some of the nation’s most regressive tax schemes — relying on sales tax instead of income tax — a policy that disproportionately affects low to middle income individuals and families. Seattle’s recent effort to enact a local income tax was met with a largely negative response.
Despite these issues, Seattle continues to flourish amid investment that aims to address some of these challenges.
As one of the fastest-growing cities in the US, Seattle is entering an era of rapid change. Forecasts suggest that in the next 20 years, Seattle will need to accommodate 70,000 additional housing units, 120,000 more residents and 115,000 more jobs.
Seattle’s unique geography means the city is particularly space-constricted, so land use will need to be adjusted to fit more jobs and housing into existing communities. Most compact development is concentrated in urban centers or urban villages. Urban villages are complete, mixed-use neighbourhoods in which residents have access to employment, transit and retail services that meet their daily needs. By locating more housing, jobs, shops and services near each other, Seattle aims to reduce reliance on cars, limit traffic congestion and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2005, more than two thirds of Seattle’s new housing units have been constructed in commercial and mixed-use space.
Despite record levels of housing development and construction, Seattle has been unsuccessful in fully meeting the demands. In March 2018, home prices in Seattle climbed by CAD56,000, taking the median home price to well over CAD1 million. An influx of high-earning workers, largely concentrated in the technology sector, makes Seattle an ideal location for developers to construct luxury housing.
Long-time residents question whether they can continue to afford to live in a city where median home prices, rents and the general cost of living increases year after year. This trend continues to displace the city’s most vulnerable populations. Years of gentrification have left their mark on Seattle’s neighbourhood landscape, which tends to stratify regions by socio-economic status.
Housing affordability is partly influenced by regional and local land-use policies, development regulations and permit processes. Understanding the need to meet current and projected regional housing requirements, in early 2016 the Seattle City Council approved Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) for a handful of neighbourhoods. MHA ensures that new commercial and multifamily residential development contributes to affordable housing. MHA aims to provide at least 6,000 new rent-restricted, income-restricted homes for low-income individuals and families. This northern autumn the council will vote to implement MHA citywide.
The unique topography proved challenging in the early days of planning a street grid. A series of massive regrades and infills moved almost 300,000 cubic meters of earth and shaped the land we see today. A disagreement between Seattle founders resulted in a disjointed street grid; some founders believed streets should run north and south, while others insisted they run parallel to the shoreline.
Today, Seattle streets form a vibrant city connecting people, places and products through a variety of proven and innovative policies and designs. Greenways, street ends, mini-parks, planting strips, play streets, block parties and other activating uses of the right of way bring together community members and local businesses to create fun and relaxing safe spaces for pedestrians to explore and socialize.
The Seattle Department of Transportation’s (SDOT) annual Park(ing) Day turns on-street parking into public spaces to reinforce the importance of walkable, livable and healthy communities. Community P-Patches and gardens provide spaces where neighbours come together to steward — plan, plant and maintain — a piece of open space. These gardens serve as gathering places that strengthen neighbourhood networks through cooperative ventures and offer a visible product of land stewardship as well as a healthier urban environment.
When the rain relents in late spring and summer, Seattle’s Out to Lunch concert series enlivens public squares and piazzas with a variety of food trucks, seating, live music and games. Throughout the year, Seattle’s public squares host urban art installations that inspire and provide clear wayfinding that encourage both visitors and residents to explore surrounding attractions.
The transformation of the waterfront should begin in earnest later this year when the three-kilometer tunnel replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct opens. Built in 1953, the viaduct, or SR 99, suffered structural damage in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, threatening the safety of its 100,000 daily users. In early 2009, Seattle voters approved a plan to replace the deteriorating structure.
Despite early construction setbacks, including a 24-month delay because of damage to a tunnel boring machine, underground Alaskan Way is due to open late this year. Demolition of the viaduct will allow the reconnection of the urban core to the waterfront piers via a landscaped promenade featuring local vegetation, art installations and unobstructed views of Elliot Bay and the Olympic mountain range. This promenade will also enhance the Pike Place Market expansion, providing its 10 million annual visitors a pleasant walk to waterfront businesses and attractions.
The waterfront is also a terminus for thousands who commute by ferry and water taxi. During the summer, Seattle hosts more than a million cruise ship passengers that bring an estimated revenue of CAD650 to shops and businesses. The reconstruction of the Elliot Bay Seawall and Colman Dock seeks to accommodate safe, comfortable and efficient travel by pedestrians, cyclists, vehicles and freight.
Seattle boasts one of the best designed and preserved park systems in the country, thanks largely to the work of the Olmsted Brothers firm of Brookline, Massachusetts. Early in the twentieth century, the Olmsteds left their imprint on Seattle’s landscape with a series of parks and boulevards, creating connected green spaces for citizens to enjoy.
Today, Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR) manages a 2,600-hectare system with more than 485 parks and natural areas, 40 kilometers of boulevards and almost 200 kilometers of trails. Few cities can boast this diversity and abundance of parks, playgrounds and other natural spaces, which covers about 12 per cent of the city’s land area. SPR also manages facilities, including 26 community centers, eight indoor swimming pools, two outdoor swimming pools, four environmental education centers and four golf courses. It takes advantage of unique public/private partnerships that enhance Seattle’s urban green spaces with community-oriented events. SPR develops, manages and monitors more than 90 contracts with external partners to provide cost-effective and beneficial programs and services.
The Urban Forest Interdepartmental Team, a collaboration between three city departments, SDOT, Seattle Public Utilities and Seattle City Light, seeks to expand tree canopy cover from 28 per cent last year to 30 per cent by 2037. Since 2007, SDOT has planted an average of 1,200 trees a year. The urban forestry team is also responsible for cataloging more than 140,000 trees maintained in the city’s right-of-way.
Seattle Public Schools (SPS) is the largest school district in the state of Washington, with almost 8,000 staff and 50,000 students in 95 schools. The district serves an economically and ethnically diverse population, with more than 40 per cent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch. Students and families come to Seattle from 147 countries and about 30 per cent of students speak a language other than English at home.
Like many urban school districts, SPS still faces a demographic achievement gap. In 2012, of district third-graders, 88.8 per cent of Caucasian students were proficient on the state reading test, compared with 72.9 per cent of Asian/Pacific Islander students, 58.6 per cent of Hispanic students, 52.9 per cent of Native American students and 47 per cent of African American students.
Seattle’s Colleges District, comprised of three community colleges and a vocational school, offers workforce education and training, professional technical programs, bachelor’s degrees in career areas and transfer degree programs to nearly 50,000 students each year. Washington State’s Direct Transfer Agreement enables community college students to transition to four-year institutions after earning a two-year associate degree. Each year, the University of Washington accepts more than 1,000 students from local community colleges, thus providing an alternative path to earning a four-year degree.
The University of Washington, in northeast Seattle, is an internationally recognized research institution ranking 10th in the Best Global Universities, according to the U.S. News and World Report. The university plays a big role in commercial real estate development in the downtown core. Given to the university in 1861 by Seattle founder Arthur Denny, the Seattle Metropolitan Tract is 4.45 hectares of land spanning several city blocks. Today, the tract is composed of 130,000 square meters of rentable office space, 18,580 square meters of rentable commercial space, 450 hotel rooms and more than 2,000 parking spaces. The newest development, a 58-story mixed-used skyscraper, was recently acquired by Amazon.
The University of Washington Medical Center is one of the premier primary care facilities in the country, ranked the best hospital in Washington State and nationally ranked in several adult specialties. Seattle remains a leader in the fight to eradicate cancer with leading research institutions like the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
Through the Child Care Assistance Program, the City of Seattle helps low and moderate-income working families pay for childcare for children aged one month to 13 years. Families can choose from more than 100 licensed family childcare homes and centers, which contract with the city. The amount of payment from the city varies according to the income of the family, age of the child and hours of care needed, typically between 25 and 70 per cent of a standardized rate.
Seattle is committed to becoming carbon neutral by the year 2050 to reduce the threat of climate change. Its Climate Action Plan provides long-term planning direction and guidance for climate protection and adaptation efforts through to 2030. Adopted in June 2013, the plan focuses on city actions that reduce greenhouse emissions and support vibrant neighbourhoods, economic prosperity and social equity. Actions are concentrated on areas of greatest need and impact: transportation, building energy and waste. The plan also includes actions that will increase the community's resilience in the face of climate change.
Between the late 1800s and 1930s, Seattle built one of the largest streetcar networks in the US, but by the 1940s, more than 320 kilometers of track was removed or paved over. For decades after, Washingtonians rejected levies to expand public transit, instead opting to build higher capacity freeways to cater for suburban development.
Despite historically modest support for transit investment, recent growth in Seattle and suburban regions has exacerbated traffic congestion and caused commuters to seek alternatives. Today, more than 2,000 buses serve the Greater Seattle area supplemented by light rail and a commuter rail service. The State of Washington’s Commute Trip Reduction program requires businesses with more than 100 employees to report how they get to work. In 2017, 25 per cent of commuters reported driving alone to work, a 5 per cent drop from a year earlier.
In the city proper, the CAD1.21 billion Levy to Move Seattle outlines a comprehensive plan to improve safety for all travelers, maintain streets and bridges and invest in reliable and affordable travel options.
The Freight Master Plan (FMP), adopted in 2016, was developed to address the unique characteristics, needs and impacts of freight mobility. Washington’s transportation industry supports nearly 900,000 jobs in the Puget Sound economy through freight-dependent sectors such as agriculture, forestry, construction and manufacturing — producing an estimated economic impact of CAD120 billion. The Duwamish Manufacturing/Industrial Center (MIC) and the Ballard-Interbay Northend MIC account for more than 64,000 jobs, 15 per cent of all jobs in Seattle. A network of marine terminals, railroads and rail spurs, roadways, and airports serve the MICs.
A big proportion of the freight industry is reliant on the road network to transport goods. In 2011, 68.5 per cent of freight tonnage and 80.7 per cent of freight-related revenue in Washington was carried by truck. Nearly half of all goods exported from Seattle-region ports originate in Washington. Most of these goods travel to the ports via truck (44.2 per cent) or rail (41.6 per cent). The remaining 14.2 per cent corresponds to pipeline, barge or ship, and mainly reflects crude petroleum activity. With so much of the Seattle economy reliant upon truck movements, roadway infrastructure is critical to the local, regional, and state economy.
The FMP identifies a network of over-legal and heavy-haul routes that can accommodate oversized truck loads and provides funding to repair and build roadways within the network, calls for semi-annual safety inspections of heavy-haul trucks, and aligns city weight regulations with those of the state and other municipalities across the country. In addition to a heavy-haul network, the City of Seattle outlines a Downtown Traffic Control Zone, which prohibits heavy freight from operating without a permit during peak hours in highly congested transit corridors.
The Port of Seattle is an economic engine for the region, supporting thousands of jobs. About 70 per cent of the port’s containerized cargo originates in or is destined for regions of the country outside the Pacific Northwest, making Seattle a trade gateway of regional, national and international significance. Two major US railroads are within two miles of container terminals, and two interstate highways are within minutes of all terminals, providing efficient truck and rail access for inland destinations including Chicago, New York and Boston. The port owns one of the largest, most efficient cargo load centers on the west coast of the US.
Operated by the Port of Seattle, the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) serves as the gateway to Seattle, Washington State and the larger Pacific Northwest. As of 2016, Sea-Tac was the ninth busiest airport in the United States, hosting an estimated 46.8 million passengers. Air cargo volume increased by more than 10 per cent between 2015 and 2016, and totaled more than 425,000 tons in 2017. Sea-Tac offers non-stop flights to more than 90 domestic and 25 international destinations.
At present, Sea-Tac serves as a hub for Alaska and Delta Airlines. Between 2016 and 2022, the Port of Seattle estimates that CAD4.2 billion will be spent on major capital projects, small improvements and overhead costs. This is a 280 per cent increase from the previous six years. The projects include a new international arrivals facility.
As part of Seattle’s Vision Zero Plan — zero traffic related deaths by 2030 — SDOT commissioned Bike and Pedestrian Safety Analysis to use advanced modelling techniques to determine the most dangerous intersections. This analysis was used to prioritize traffic calming efforts and access improvements across the city. This systemic, risk-based approach enables SDOT to proactively address safety issues, aiming to prevent bicycle and pedestrian accidents before they happen.
BUILT FORM: PARKING PROVISIONS
BUILT FORM: PARKING PROVISIONS
SDOT seeks one or two open and available parking spaces on any block throughout the day. To meet this goal, the city has adopted performance-based pricing strategies to balance the competing needs of transit, customers and residents. SDOT carefully regulates curb space, installs and maintains paid parking, loading and short-term access in business districts. Its Restricted Parking Zone program was created to help ease parking congestion in residential neighbourhoods around demand generators such as light rail stations and hospitals by limiting on-street parking to residents and short-term visitors.
Recently, the Seattle City Council eased off-street parking requirements for new development. Off-street parking is not required for housing near a frequent transit service. Since 2004, the average parking spaces per new unit decreased from 1.57 spaces to 0.63 spaces. In addition to easing requirements for off-street parking, the legislation permits landlords to rent parking spaces to non-tenants.
Residents enjoy the convenience of a wide array of ride-share, car-share, bike-share and on-demand transportation options. Sea-Tac also provides designated areas for transportation network companies, such as Uber and Lyft, to pick up and drop off passengers. Ride-share services like Car2Go, ReachNow and Zipcar operate in the city as well.
In addition to car-sharing services, Seattle offers three dockless or free-floating bike sharing services including Lime, Spin and Ofo. After a controversial bailout of Pronto, the SDOT abandoned plans to expand docked bike-share, instead inviting private firms for a trial period. The trial was deemed a massive success and Lime is expanding offerings to include motor-assisted bikes.
When it comes to future mobility technologies such as autonomous vehicles, cities are faced with the challenge of embracing new technologies without changing the way residents live or compromising regulations and quality of life. New technology is transforming transportation systems in cities around the world in ways we do not yet fully understand. Seattle is carefully considering the pros and cons of allowing connected and autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles or drones to operate within the city. It has set parameters for where and how new mobility innovations are tested and deployed.
In 2016, the Office of the Mayor introduced the Drive Clean Seattle initiative. This initiative outlined an aggressive municipal fleet emissions reduction strategy, calling for big infrastructure investment by Seattle City Light, identifying opportunities for public/private partnerships, piloting innovative projects to use electrical assets and accelerating transport electrification. It is Seattle’s goal to have 30 per cent of all light-duty vehicles in the city operate under electric power by 2030.
Since the mid-1990s, the City of Seattle has regularly studied and assessed the state of broadband services and infrastructure. In 1996, Seattle installed 550 miles of fiber, although much of this cable remains unused, some of it is leased to private companies.
Since this initial public investment, Seattle remains apprehensive about subsidizing broadband infrastructure, instead seeking alternative options for funding. Seattle leverages several public/private partnerships from telecom firms like Xfinity, CenturyLink and Wave to explore opportunities for improved internet access for city residents.
Internet access is the infrastructure challenge of the early twenty-first century and access to the information and services it provides are responsible for economic growth, job creation, education, and a better quality of life. Seattle is exploring all options that would increase the availability of competitive, affordable and equal broadband internet access options that approach one gigabit of bandwidth across the city. Since June 2014, more than 60 per cent of the city's single family households have gained access to gigabit-speed broadband internet services.
MOBILE INTERNET: WI-FI, 5G, NARROWBAND IOT
MOBILE INTERNET: WI-FI, 5G, NARROWBAND IOT
5G represents a next stage in the evolution of mobile wireless technology, and is envisioned to provide much faster speeds then the current 4G technology (e.g., download speeds of approximately 10 Gbps). 5G is seen by many as a central component of machine-to-machine communications and the Internet of Things (IoT). While planning and design and prototype testing of 5G technology is currently underway, full deployment is not expected to begin until 2020.
Seattle is well-positioned to be an early adopter of 5G technology with telecom giant T-Mobile headquartered 15 minutes outside Seattle. In early 2018, T-Mobile announced it would deploy 5G service to 30 U.S. cities. Though those cities have yet to be named, Seattle is expected to be participating in the launch.
Data has the potential to drive innovation, improving both quality of life and economic productivity. Technology creates new opportunities to use data to help reduce traffic congestion, fight crime, foster economic development, reduce greenhouse gases and make local governments more open, responsive and efficient.
Around the world, cities harness the power of sensors and engage citizens equipped with smartphones, cloud computing, high-speed networks and data analytics. In Seattle, departments are encouraged to use data to make informed decisions, focus on performance management, and to become open by preference — making data publicly available to encourage development of innovative solutions that improve quality of life.
Unlocking the promise of a smart, data-driven city requires a focus on data governance, consistent tools that facilitate cross-department collaboration, and educating the public on how to leverage the city's resources.
The City of Seattle uses the Socrata open data platform to share its data with the public. In addition to providing data to the public, the city also appoints open data champions in each department. These champions are responsible for curating their data catalogs and ensuring data is refreshed on a regular basis. The City of Seattle’s open data initiative also includes annual risk assessments to identify potential privacy concerns related to data aggregation. Externally, it partners with local technology and community groups to encourage engagement with, and the use of, open data to find solutions to the region’s most pressing civic challenges. SDOT and Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) also publish spatial data in proprietary and open-source data formats to accommodate citizen data scientists of varying skill levels.
The City of Seattle’s Privacy Program is designed to provide the structure and guidance required for city departments to incorporate the appropriate privacy practices into daily operations, and to build public trust and confidence in how the city collects and manages the public’s personal information.
In 2015, Seattle designed a citywide Privacy Program to provide guidance and tools to city employees when working with personal information. A group of representatives from 15 city departments was convened to create policies and practices to define and implement a citywide program to meet privacy commitments.
Since then, the program has continued to grow. The city now conducts hundreds of privacy reviews each year about the technologies used to deliver services to ensure that new and existing city programs across all departments use and protect the information they collect.
In 2016, the city commissioned a report to identify areas where publicly-accessible Wi-Fi can have a meaningful impact in Seattle. It was also required to identify potential funding sources, business models, and partners to expand the availability of public Wi-Fi services, especially as a means to address Seattle's digital equity and digital inclusion needs.
The study found that there are opportunities for increasing public Wi-Fi at low or no cost to the city through models that are supported by advertising and other revenue-generating models. However, the city needs to examine the public policy implications of these models and engage the community to determine how these approaches would work in Seattle.
The City of Seattle will consider these options in implementing the most appropriate and effective business models moving forward.
Seattle prides itself on being an environmentally conscientious world citizen. Relying on Washington State’s vast network of powerful rivers, Seattle’s energy is largely derived from hydroelectric sources. In 2016, hydroelectric energy constituted 90 per cent of power provided by Seattle City Light (SCL). Half of this energy is produced by facilities owned and operated by SCL, while the remainder is bought from the Bonneville Power Administration. Less than two per cent of Seattle’s energy is produced by fossil fuels. Since 2005, SCL has been greenhouse gas neutral — the nation’s first electric utility to receive that distinction.
SCL also maintains more than 1,040 kilometers of transmission lines and towers in Washington’s rugged wilderness. Within Seattle, SCL manages more than 3,200 distribution circuit kilometers and 14 distribution substations all connected via a smart grid. The utility’s Net Metering Program allows customers to enjoy the reliability of the electrical grid and the option to buy power utility when their system is not generating enough to cover their needs.
The Seattle Energy Code has been consistently ranked among the most progressive codes in North America since its inception 36 years ago. Code concepts developed in Seattle are routinely incorporated into the Washington State Energy Code and increasingly into national standards.
This code is one of the major reasons that SCL can plan on using its existing resources instead of adding new and costly electricity generation from other resources. The Seattle Energy Code requires energy efficiency levels at least 20 per cent better than the present national standard. This drives down energy costs by making high-performance buildings the norm.
Today, the Seattle water system supplies about 530 million liters of water a day to about 1.4 million people. The system relies on two big regional watersheds, the Cedar and Tolt, which are also home to wildlife and salmon. The 36,680-hectare Cedar Watershed, about 56 kilometers southeast of Seattle, supports a diverse ecosystem and provides about 70 per cent of the drinking water. The rest comes from the foothills of the Cascades in east King County.
In 2016, SPU produced 169 billion liters gallons of treated drinking water, of which 9.1 billion liters were lost to leakage. This 5.3 per cent leakage rate is well below the state standard of 10 per cent. To encourage more efficient water use, the Saving Water Partnership and its 18 water utility partners — set a six-year conservation goal of reducing per capita use. The hope is that the partnership’s average annual retail water use would fall to 397 million liters a day this year despite forecast population growth. The goal was met in 2016, when only 357 million liters a day was used.
All residential properties in Seattle are required to have food and yard waste collection service. By law, food and yard waste are not allowed in the garbage and can be met with fines. Many public facilities and spaces provide landfill, recycling and composting bins with guides for those unfamiliar with sorting waste.
In 2012, the Seattle City Council passed an ordinance banning retailers from providing plastic carryout bags and requiring a five-cent fee for paper bags. In July 2018, it also banned plastic straws and utensils.