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Stop Sprawl
1998 Sierra Club Sprawl Report: 30 Most Sprawl-Threatened Cities

Ten Most Sprawl-Threatened Large Cities
Number Seven: Seattle

Many strains of Seattle's famed chinook salmon population are growing extinct.

The Puget Sound region is blessed with some of the world's most breathtaking natural areas, including the Cascade and Olympic Mountains. Despite state growth management legislation enacted in 1990, many of these areas remain unprotected from human encroachment. Increasingly, development has taken its place beside other intensive human activities, such as logging, as a major threat to the coastal and eastern wilderness in Washington State.

The Seattle metropolitan region is creeping southward along the coast and eastward, ever closer to the Cascades range. In part because of major employment shifts, the metropolitan area grew in population by 13 percent from 1990 to 1996, much of it in the outer suburbs of King County. In fact, many former suburbs, such as Federal Way and SeaTac, grew large and complex enough during the last 20 years to incorporate as separate cities. During the same period, population grew by only 1.6 percent in Seattle's center city.

Seattle's four-year-old urban growth boundary has helped stem the unplanned sprawl. Today, nearly 90 percent of King County's new housing units are springing up in previously settled urban areas, and population density has returned to 1970 levels. But during that time, the region's land area increased 20 percent. Mega-development projects are already underway on King County's Eastside that may tip the scales toward an eventual relaxing of the carefully set urban-rural boundary. For example, Issaquah Highlands, a development on the once-rural Sammamish Plateau, will include 3 million square feet of office space to accommodate 8,000 employees (Christian Science Monitor).

Sprawl is eroding the quality of life and the natural environment in the Puget Sound region. Many strains of the area's famed chinook salmon population are growing extinct, and flooding - once a quarter-century event - is now nearly annual because floodplains in Redmond and Issaquah have been paved over. There are now more cars than people in the region, and each household makes ten automobile trips a day, nearly twice the number of trips they made in 1990. In 1994 (the year for the most recent data) area drivers spent 127 percent more time in congested traffic than they did in 1982. They spend 59 hours stuck in traffic each year; residents in only five other urban areas spend more time in their cars.

Recent polls indicate that nearly 25 percent of the region's residents cannot name any positive impacts from development (Seattle Times).

Read the Report | Clickable Sprawl Map | Sprawl-Threatened Cities

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