Yellow and orange cranes loom over Seattle’s landscape like an army of gentle dinosaurs.
There are so many of them here that listener Ben Lang had this question for KUOW’s Local Wonder:
“I’ve heard the only place that has more construction cranes is Dubai,” Lang said. He lives in the University District. “That true? How many construction cranes are up in Seattle right now, and how does that compare to other cities in the world?”
Well, Ben, Dubai is like Las Vegas and Disneyland, all under construction at once.
We’re talking the tallest buildings on the planet. Fantastical projects. HUNDREDS of cranes. Like, more than 900. How can anyone compete?
Seattle has 60 cranes.
Our city doesn’t even have the most cranes in North America. That title goes to Toronto, which has 80 cranes.
Toronto is a little like Seattle. It has million dollar houses and people who can’t buy them, which is why developers are building apartments and condos.
Not all cranes are the same. Here, a red one rescues Bertha the tunnel boring machine:
But Ben, you’ll be happy to hear that Seattle has more cranes than San Francisco and Los Angeles. And we’re slightly ahead of Chicago, which has about 50.
And we’re not even counting the cranes in the suburbs.
Christopher Reid of Renton contacted us via Twitter about the construction near his place.
“I’m looking at three big cranes visible from my house right now,” he said. “They’re all yellow and they light up red and green and blue at night, looks pretty cool.”
Garner Construction supplies the operators for many of the city’s cranes. Jackie Garner says they’re operating 17 of the city’s 60 cranes. By spring, they’ll be overseeing 27 crane jobs.
She says this feels like the boom before the great recession.
“I think that this one will probably last a little bit longer,” Garner said. “I think we are at least five or six years out from having a good economy for this.”
At Garner's company, they do it all.
“We rent the crane, we erect the crane we operate the crane, we maintain the crane and we take the crane down.”
And how DO you take a crane down?
"They're taken down in pieces and then they're taken back to the yard, which is in Salem, where they go through them and make them ready for the next job."
So the cranes live in Oregon, but they’re not getting much time to rest. And it looks like they’ll be reaching even higher into the Seattle sky. The city is raising building heights.
First in the University District, then downtown and South Lake Union. The council is tackling zoning one neighborhood at a time.
It’s part of a grand bargain with developers – exchanging height for more affordable units.
But you’ll never hear anyone say they’re building the world’s tallest skyscraper in Seattle. Or underwater hotel, or rotating condo building that is its own wind power station.
That’s happening in Dubai.