Report: Denser is better in Downtown Seattle

SEATTLE - The Downtown Seattle Association is making a case for a denser downtown core after examining the benefits and challenges posed by the city's current residential and employment populations.

The nonprofit organization recently released the findings in its 2013 Downtown Density Report. According to the association, while Seattle's downtown core represents just 4 percent of the city's total land mass and only 10 percent of the city's population, it's home to more than 40 percent of the jobs in Seattle and generates one-third of all the local and state tax revenues.

"Seattle is moving in the right direction when it comes to density, and we think that's a really good thing," said James Sido, with the Downtown Seattle Association.

Sido said the report can be seen as an important tool not only for policy makers but also for those involved in business relocation, retail recruitment and office and residential development.

According to the report findings, between 2005 and 2012 residential developers added nearly 7,200 apartment units and 2,800 condo units in the downtown core. And as of June of this year, the association said an additional 4,650 apartment units and 670 condo units were under construction.

"Downtown Seattle is the clear economic engine for the entire region," Sido said. "When you have downtown that people want to live, work, shop and play contained in one urban core you are enhancing that engine and we think that density does that."

But, Seattle resident Bill Bradburd views the association's report with cautious optimism.

"Density as an indicator in and of itself is not necessarily a good thing," Bradburd said.

Bradburd is part of Reasonable Density Seattle, a community organization focused on quality density issues. The group was formed as more and more micro-housing developments started popping up in low-rise, residential neighborhoods. In terms of the small, shared facility living spaces, Bradburd said downtown is the perfect place to encourage this type of density development, but a downtown has to do more than just provide a place to live and work.

"You want adequate retail, community, cultural and open spaces," Bradburd said. "I think there are things the association missed in its report. There is no public school in the downtown area. There are some private types of child services, but that precludes a less wealthy demographic in that area."

Bradburd also questioned the report's findings on transportation efficiency. According to the report, downtown density encourages and supports a more efficient transportation system overall with increases in transit use and decreases in car ownership.

"It's like a vicious cycle," Bradburd said. "If you look at the cost to move people into the downtown area it's hugely expensive. To me the question is imbalance. We aren't focusing on investments in other areas that support downtown growth."

But according to the DSA, the city isn't the only one that benefits from creating a dense downtown core. The association argues by concentrating jobs and housing downtown more rural areas, such as farm and wildlife lands, can be preserved.

The report also compared Seattle's downtown population and employment density with other downtown areas across the country. According to the numbers, Seattle ranked third on the list behind San Francisco and Philadelphia for resident population and resident density. The association said Downtown Seattle is not only recognized as an employment and residential center regionally but also nationally.