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12 good things that happened the past year

The central plaza for Amazon, designed by NBBJ. Credit: Lawrence W. Cheek

‘Tis the season to be grateful, so here are some presents I would hand out to good folks and good happenings in the past year.

1. Seattle Symphony, for an artful transition from one era to the next. After Maestro Gerard Schwarz’s overlong “Farewell Symphony,” the organization pivoted dramatically and skillfully to a very different tempo. It made the most of new Maestro Ludovic Morlot’s youthfulness and openness to all kinds of music, let him charge up the players (oh-so-happy to have a new leader), and sent strong signals of engaging with the broader community of music lovers, not just classical music buffs. An example: open rehearsals.

2. Winning the war to keep the 737 in Renton. This is a huge boost to the local economy (and pride), and for once the winner (not the bad guy) was labor, which deftly used the leverage of the NLRB lawsuit. Less known but just as admirable was the way Gov. Gregoire’s operatives used the moment of danger to get UW and WSU on the same page for the need to educate more engineers.

3.  Danny Westneat, Seattle Times columnist, had a strong year, often leading the civic discussion. While the paper’s editorial page has veered right on cost-cutting, Westneat has carved out a sensible center, full of common sense, a nice sense of comic outrage, impatient with political correctness, and a genuine feeling for how ordinary people are suffering during hard times.

4. The state Republicans. Encouraged by the prospect of a center-right new governor, Rob McKenna, numerous young Republicans are trying to create a moderate cadre that will be a kind of revival of the Dan Evans wing of the party in the 1970s. The state GOP that may emerge will be quite distinct from the Tea Party-crazed national party, and so may have national influence as well. At last, the state GOP may come in from the political wilderness.

5. Dow Constantine, the King County Executive, is now the leading Democrat and power broker in the region. He built an excellent top staff, laid out a firm but gradual path for introducing productivity in the bureaucracy, and has become the top regional statesman, well regarded by business, labor, greens, and both parties. He’s the go-to leader on such things as saving Boeing jobs or forging a transportation blueprint.

6. Pacific MusicWorks. Among the most ambitious of the smaller arts groups to emerge in the past few years, this group is led by the esteemed lutenist Stephen Stubbs, who returned to his native Seattle after an important career in Germany. High standards, great imported artists, and a bracing openness to modern music and multi-media shows.

7. Seattle University. It is becoming a model of a university that takes its immediate urban neighborhood seriously, sending students to help with local poverty and schools with homeless kids. Another intriguing aspect is the way this values-based Jesuit university deeply cares about tapping religious traditions to deal with contemporary problems. And it makes speedy decisions, thus inviting innovative proposals.

8. Modernizing, urbanizing Bellevue. The rising city is at a political and economic crossroads. Is it controlled by a group of original developers, maximizing their investments and keeping taxes low, or is it going to follow the path of Sound Transit and double its size and become a much richer, more techy blend of workforce and residents? The past election, rejecting Tim Eyman’s initiative against tolls and Sound Transit and rebuffing the Kemper Freeman slate on the city council, was a strong indication of the new direction.

9. Moving on from the Viaduct wars. Ironically, the vote that the deep-bore tunnel advocates feared and tried to stop ended up going their way in August and finally ridding Seattle politics from the rearguard snipers on the tunnel proposal. This culture war, which will now seek better battlefronts and issues, had grown very stale and was sucking all the oxygen out of local politics. Too, Mayor McGinn can now move on to other issues and perhaps rescue his sinking mayoralty.

10. Gotta love those apartments. The A-word used to rouse political resistance in Seattle, threatening our single-family dogmas. No more. When nothing else is happening in the housing market, apartments are the new rage, whether for Amazon workers in South Lake Union, transit-hub types in the North Lot of the stadiums, or that new epicenter of hip, the Pike-Pine corridor. Let’s hope the trend next transforms that icon of older Seattle, the Smith Tower, sitting forlorn and empty.

11. Seattle City Council. Never fully loved, the council has nonetheless had another good year, acting as a kind of regent while the rookie mayor finds his royal robes and giving the floundering department heads somewhere to turn for guidance. Richard Conlin has been an unusually steady and collaborative council president, now stepping down, and the council has coherence because of its central ruling bloc of Conlin, Sally Clark, Sally Bagshaw, Tom Rasmussen, and Tim Burgess, who all get along well and defer to each other’s pet projects.

12. South Lake Union. This was the year when this whipping post of local politics, inveighing against developers and mega-wealth, turned into a fait accompli. We now go there for the good restaurants, push for better architecture, and even feel good (on some days) about all the jobs Amazon and U.W. research are bringing to the area and the local economy. Folks are even riding the SLUT. Gratitude might be too strong a word yet, but let’s at least recognize that the U.W. and Paul Allen’s Vulcan have actually created a booming new outpost of the new economy. (But ask me about this next year, after bruising battles over extending the trolley, widening Mercer, and upzoning the area have taken their toll.)

Hold these good thoughts for a least a week, all you grumps! You have plenty other things to be upset about, like schools and potholes and the local cops. Now, who’s for another glass of egg nog?

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