April 13, 2013 – Planning for Pugetopolis

The challenge of efficiently placing and connecting people and jobs

The Puget Sound region defined by King, Snohomish, Kitsap, and Pierce counties is roughly 6,300 square miles. Urban growth boundaries protect approximately 3,800 square miles, or 60 percent of this land, designating it for non-urban uses such as farms and forests. Less developed rural “non-resource” lands are an additional 1,500 square miles, or 24 percent or the region (with much of this already enjoying protection from urban levels of development because it is national and local park land, public working forests, agricultural land, or has regulated protections from the Washington State Growth Management Act (e.g. critical areas ordinances and designation as rural land).

Inside the region’s urban growth area (which is 980 square miles, or about 16 percent of the region’s total land area), are the homes of 3.5 million people. It is projected that this population will reach 5 million by 2040.

Over the last thirty years, the largest share of the region’s growth went to King County (43 percent), which now has over 50% of the region’s population. However the region’s other three counties showed significantly faster rates of growth (**) over the last 4 decades and this trend is expected to continue with over half of the expected population growth received by the region over the next thirty years going to these three counties.

Migration was the primary source of population growth, accounting for 58 percent of the increase; while natural growth (births minus deaths) accounts for the other 42 percent. Migration trends are largely driven by the economy and the breadth of job opportunities in the region, however many expect climate change and peak oil conditions to exacerbate this inward migration trend.

The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) is a quasi-governmental body whose mission is to ensure a thriving central Puget Sound now and into the future through long-range planning for regional transportation, growth management and economic development. It does so by researching trends, developing policies, and making decisions about regional issues with the input from the region’s municipalities and citizens. The PSRC’s Regional Growth Strategy, expressed in VISION 2040 is what anticipates the distribution of the additional growth of 1.7 million people and 1.2 million more jobs to regional geographies in the central Puget Sound region.

27 “Regional Growth Centers”, from Everett to Lakewood, which are found in 18 cities (Seattle has several) are to receive the bulk of this population and job growth. The PSRC projects that King county will receive 40% of population growth though 2040, yet nearly 60% of the job growth. This disparity of jobs and population will stress already inadequate regional transportation systems, and require further infrastructure investments.

Growth in the unincorporated urban growth areas is prioritized by the PSRC into areas that are expected for annexation into incorporated jurisdictions, and desire is for markedly less residential growth in the region’s rural areas. Yet in 2010 as much housing was created in the unincorporated areas of the four counties as in Seattle as a whole, indicating demand for dispersed housing rather than denser urban living. Housing affordability in the denser urban areas is also a factor for this trend.

The region’s long-range transportation plan is Transportation 2040 and outlines the strategies and investments needed to address the projected 40% increase in travel demand while at the same time balancing the impact of peak oil, the environmental impacts of the automobile, and the inherent costs of public transit. The Regional Economic Strategy defined with the help of the Prosperity Partnership identifies 10 key industries necessary to enhance the region’s economic vitality.

To help explain the complexities of this vision for our future is Charlie Howard, Director of Integrated Planning for the Puget Sound Regional Council. Prior to joining PSRC in 2005, Charlie worked with the Washington State Department of Transportation for 18 years, most recently as the Director of Strategic Planning and Programming. Charlie has been involved in state and regional transportation issues for the past 30 years, including an active role in developing and implementing the state’s Growth Management Act. Charlie is a graduate of the Ohio State University, and has a Master’s Degree in City and Regional Planning from Harvard University.

(**) according to the PSRC, since 1970, Kitsap County grew by 135 percent, Pierce County by 80 percent, and Snohomish County by 143 percent, compared to 54 percent for King County.

by Bill Bradburd April 9, 2013

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