Gentrification and Transformation: the Changing Landscape of South Lake Union

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2023/03/26
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South Lake Union has undergone dramatic changes over the last two decades. Ever since Amazon moved to South Lake Union in 2007, demographics have dramatically changed. The population has grown by 26%, which is 10% more than the Seattle average and almost double the national average of 14%. This increase in population is mostly people who are working in tech companies, such as Amazon and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, rather than service jobs, which was the majority in the past (see Graph 1). With the majority of people now working in tech firms, the average income has increased exponentially (see graph 2), allowing residents to afford and want to pay more for rent and housing.

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The increase in income and population has caused a major need for more housing in the South Lake Union area. Since 2007 there has been an increase in mixed-use buildings with stores or businesses on the ground level and apartments on the upper floors. As shown in graph 3, we can see a simultaneous increase in the variety of housing as well as the different types of commercial buildings. With these upper-floor apartments comes an increased rent price, which the incoming residents working for Amazon and Fred Hutchinson can afford, but the people that have been living there for years can’t, thus pushing them to move out. The increase of urban professionals displacing lower-income families and the increase in average income and property rents are the epitomai of gentrification. The pictures below display the varying facets of trends of gentrification in South Lake Union.

Why South Lake Union

Amazon has been at the center of the region’s tech boom, and its growth has drawn migration to the urban core. From 2000 to 2012, the population of downtown Seattle grew by more than 26%(1), compared to 17% for all of Seattle and only 14% nationally.
Younger folks are driving much of this growth, as the downtown population aged 25-44 has grown four times faster (28%) than the metro average. With its estimated local workforce of 18,000 and the potential to expand by an additional 22,000 over the next five years(2), the ramifications of Amazon’s expansion for the local CRE markets are acute.

With regards to job opportunities, more than 36,000 people work in this area, almost a 50% increase since even 2009 (a year before Amazon relocated here). This neighborhood used to be highlighted by large parking lots, warehouses, and less than optimal production of industrial buildings (i.e., ghost town-like). The number of pedestrians alone has quadrupled since that time period.

More than 50 new buildings in the last decade have doubled the total commercial square footage in the SLU region. Much of SLU is sleek/new, with a lot of shiny glass buildings that seem repetitive if you walk around the entire area in a loop. The residency also faced a rapid increase from 1,500 in 2000 to 7,000 in 2009 in SLU. The Eastern half of SLU used to be a low-rent area, but new luxury apartments have made it into an upscale area.

While job opportunities have surely increased exponentially, so has the median rent paid by residents (%26 between 2009-2014). according to Zillow median listing for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,950.

Future planning shows that area will undergo an even further transformation as high-rise towers/skyscrapers planned as high as 42 stories tall will further be integrated. This is expected to double the residential and commercial capacities of this neighborhood.
Historically the area was occupied by Native Americans. In 1850 coal was discovered in the area, and with the abundance of large cedar in the area, companies started the saw and shingle mills along the lake. The diverse employees of the growing lumber industry began living in the area with large populations from Russia, Greece, Norway, and Sweden. This diversity of caucasian immigrants can be seen today in Fremont and Ballard. Other important historical events that contributed to the South Lake Union development were the regrade of Denny Hill and the industrial activity after WWII.

In reference to demographics, the area is “not racially diverse, with 73.43% of the population being Caucasian. According to the 2000 Census, 39% of the population has a bachelor’s degree, and 21.3% of the population made between $100,000 to $149,999. According to Zillow, “The median home price in South Lake Union is 86% higher than the national average”. According to American Community Survey, 51% of the housing stock is a single household.

With these statistics, South Lake Union serves as a potent depiction of the demographic and commercial changes that can occur in high-demand locations with access to amenities in the center of the city. as Winifred Curran noted in From the Frying Pan to the Oven, “Advocating the recognition of the importance of urban manufacturers does not mean denying the much larger process of de-industrialization” cities need to learn from the failures of Rustbelt cities and invest in long term initiatives that will bring not only jobs but also stability, and upward mobility “for” everyone.

This will bring more complex issues like inequality, but they can learn from the experiences of Seattle and San Francisco while keeping up with an ever-changing global economy. Amazon’s growth in Seattle foreshadowed (and set the stage for) many of the changes facing South Lake Union today. If this pattern continues, in the next 20 years, we can predict the establishment of 20+ story high-rise buildings that will displace all low-income factory and industrial service jobs.

References:

  1. Johnson, Carol, Donald B. Largen, and Angela A. Ruggeri. South Lake Union. Seattle, WA: Group, 1986. Downtown Seattle. Web. May 01, 2017.
  2. Curran, W. (2007). ‘From the Frying Pan to the Oven’: Gentrification and the Experience of Industrial Displacement in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Urban Studies
  3. U.S. Census Bureau; Zip Code Tabulation Area 98109, Census 2000 Demographic Profile Highlights; using American FactFinder
    STB Editorial Board. (2018, December 11). The Seattle Squeeze is an Opportunity. Retrieved February 19, 2019, from https://seattletransitblog.com/2018/12/11/seattle-squeeze-is-an-opportunity/
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  4. Grinnell, Max. ‘The Urbanologist Calls South Lake Union ‘soulless.” The Seattle Times. The Seattle Times Company, March 01, 2015. Web. May 02, 2017.
  5. Engagement, SDCI Community. ‘SDCI Community Engagement.’ Building Connections. N.p., May 31, 2013. Web. May 02, 2017.
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Gentrification and Transformation: The Changing Landscape of South Lake Union. (2023, Mar 26). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/gentrification-in-south-lake-union/