A Rapidly Changing Seattle


We all know Seattle is in the midst of a development renaissance. But just how much development are we experiencing and where? What will that growth look like? And will we still have room for further growth in the future? I set out in search of answers to these questions. To do that, I sat down and dug into the Department of Planning and Development’s permit database. Some project proposals have come and died. Others are still in the works. And many are already in the process of construction.

Below you can see just how much activity is taking place in the central part of the city. Downtown, South Lake Union, and Capitol Hill are going gangbusters. But you probably already knew that. Any trip into these areas makes it easy to see they’re filled with trucks, cranes, construction workers, and advertising for future occupancy in a new apartment.

Central Seattle Development

Using Google Maps, I was able to create feature layers highlighting the project areas. Green features are projects in design, blue are projects under construction, yellow are completed projects, and red are sites ripe for redevelopment (judgement call on my part). I’ve also linked to the permit status and latest design review PDF of each project (a work still in progress).

Projects are in the pipeline all across the city, but there is a big disparity between the central neighbourhoods and the rest of Seattle. I’ve managed to capture almost every project of significance in the University District, Roosevelt, Greenlake, and Fremont. So, it should be pretty easy to see that while stuff is in the pipeline, they just don’t come close in scale to the activity of central Seattle. Still, there are some seriously bold and exciting projects taking place in North Seattle.

North Seattle Development

While admittedly subjective, I have undertaken the effort to determine parcels and buildings that are ripe for redevelopment. I don’t have a strict definition for this, but surface parking, blighting and abandoned structures, or old strip malls in urban centers and villages are obvious catches for redevelopment. The not-so-obvious ones are the creative redevelopments such as constructing on top of existing structures and incorporating historic structures. They are challenging efforts to be sure, but the results can be good. From what I can tell, there is plenty of capacity for continued development across the city.

I’m a numbers, map, design, and planning nerd, so creating this project just for my own interests has been fun. Along the way, I’ve discovered many interesting projects and perhaps you will, too. One of my most favourite projects right now is 801 Dexter (see page 10) in Westlake if only because of Weber Thompson’s design inspiration from bold colours and the outdoorsiness of the PNW. Feel free to pan through my database and explore projects. If you have any suggestions or ideas about how I can improve this or can help fill in the gaps, let me know in the comments or send me a tweet!

We hope you loved this article. If so, please consider subscribing or donating. The Urbanist is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that depends on donations from readers like you.

Stephen is an urban planner with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. Stephen lives in Kenmore and primarily covers land use and transportation issues for The Urbanist.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

what program did he use to create the map

Stephen Fesler

Google Maps, it has an map editor feature if you login to a Google account.

Matt the Engineer

You and Geoff should really get together. Here’s his recent Cap Hill map – he’s done something similar for SLU, the Denny Triangle, and downtown.

Stephen Fesler

I think the scope of his map is interesting. But it’s also highly judgmental and subjective, which isn’t really my intent.

Matt the Engineer

Interesting how much is being built around the U-dist and Roosevelt light rail stations, 6+ years before they open. Give it a decade and there won’t be much land left to develop on. We need more upzone!

Stephen Fesler

I would say that the University District already has a process in place to analyse changes in need for the area–the U District Urban Design Framework. http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/cityplanning/completeprojectslist/universitydistrict/whatwhy/default.htm

However, I will say that I question some of the zoning south of 45th and west of Brooklyn Ave, particularly west of 9th Ave. These areas could definitely allow for a greater level of development and perhaps a bit more mixed used opportunities on key block corners. But, the U District is kind of a mix-mash right now.

I understand wanting to focus development within the current plan period to The Ave and 45th primarily and to a lesser extent along Brooklyn, Campus Parkway, and Roosevelt/11th. Even though The Ave is largely built out, I can easily see more redevelopment on developed lots by going up and retaining the commercial frontages. I don’t think the actual development capacity within the plan period is problematic per se. That’s lots of buildings that could be replaced since they’re approaching the end of their lives as usable structures due to poor construction materials. That said, certainly some areas that aren’t adequately zoned will slow development in those areas or have less desirable density outcomes for the future. I still don’t think that’s such a problem though given the overall capacity at present.