Seattle’s Future World: Our Crystal Ball Predictions, Part 1


NOVEMBER 17, 2016 – Had I been making predictions about the future back in the 1960s, I would have been wildly wrong.

Monorails aren’t whisking us everywhere. 

Flying cars haven’t made freeways obsolete. 

The Kingdome didn’t outlast us all.

Supersonic jets never caught on—in fact, not building them helped plunge Seattle into a deep recession. People who did bet on them, the French and British, lost their shirts, and now a Concorde sits in the Museum of Flight. 

Perhaps we should have a Museum of Flights of Fancy.

The pundits 50 years ago believed Seattle would grow massively, and we have—and the city’s updated comprehensive plan, Seattle 2035, predicts that we’ll add another 120,000 people between now and then. But beware of the steady trend line; it doesn’t always lead in one direction. Just when you think things will go on forever, something surprises you: the Great Depression, Boeing’s “Turn Out the Lights” layoffs of the ’70s, the bust, the Great Recession. Seattle has grown, but hard as it might be to believe today, the city lost 37,000 in population between 1970 and 1980. We shrank like a Rust Belt burg. We didn’t surpass our 1960 population peak of 557,000 until the year 2000, when we hit 563,000. With all the cranes and construction, growth is real—but there will be hiccups.

Fifty years ago, we didn’t fully understand the city’s earthquake risks, and not until the 1980s did we realize we built this city on seismic rock and roll, straddling a major fault. Most folks didn’t reckon on skyscrapers sprouting in Bellevue, but Seattle now has a major urban competitor across the lake. Climate change carries many questions: Will there be an influx of climate refugees? Will we have enough water? Will our red cedars and Doug firs give way to palms and pines? A burp from Mount Rainier could rewrite our history in a moment, something most of us never thought about until May 18, 1980, when Mount St. Helens blew.

Back in the ’70s, we thought school busing would solve the problems of our educational system and bring about greater racial equality. I could not have predicted the Black Lives Matter movement or the depth of inequality that persists. I would not have predicted our streets would have so many homeless people. I would not have guessed 10,000 Microsoft millionaires or 70,000 Amazon jobs. I would not have predicted $1 million bungalows or $500,000 teardowns.

I would not have predicted armed Coast Guard vessels accompanying our ferries across the Sound and the threat of terrorism.

The future humbles us. We must plan for it. We have fun imagining the possibilities. Projecting gives us a guide, a good excuse for thought and conversation. The stories on the following pages do that—they get us thinking about the Next 50.

Novelist Jim Lynch wrote of Seattle that we’re a “city so short on history it’s mostly all future anyway.” 

The thing is, most of our crystal balls are a little cracked. Which only makes the future more exciting.