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Seattle’s urban growth boundaries are no longer that controversial

By Maria Saporta

In the past decade, there has been growing acceptance in Seattle for greater density and urban growth boundaries, according to Dow Constantine, the executive of King County

Today, Seattle represents 31 percent of King County’s 1.9 million population. But King County also has 38 other municipalities. And about one-third of its land is unincorporated — thereby retaining its rural or agricultural quality.

Constantine said that in the 1990s there had been widespread disagreement over the establishment of urban growth boundaries — keeping urban development within city borders.

In fact, when the Atlanta LINK delegation last came to the Seattle area in 1998, the topic was being hotly debated.

But today, most people in the county have come to realize the advantage of having compact, walkable urban villages. Even the homebuilders have come to realize that they can develop a variety of housing options to meet the needs of the county’s growing population.

“Now we have many, many centers, not just in Seattle, but around the region that have embraced this notion that you can have a center and still preserve the outlying area,” Constantine said. “I have detected a pretty dramatic shift in attitude. And the presure now is to come more inward. More and more people are choosing alternative styles of housing. It’s an evolution in our thinking; it’s a welcoming change.”

King County and Seattle also have become more sophisticated in making sure that it provides affordable housing options for the working class and the those less fortunate. A mixed-income project is being built on one Seattle’s high points “with million dollar views.”

Constantine said “preserving affordability” is a major emphasis.

The role of city and county governments is quite different in the Greater Seattle area than in metro Atlanta.

“Cities are to be the providers of urban services,” Constantine said. So if an area wants to have urban services, then it has to become part of a city.

In Georgia, county governments often are providing many of the same urban services as municipalities, which has created tensions in the region. Think Fulton County.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


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