Let’s have some thanks for the year’s unexpected treats.

The spread of an enormous Thanksgiving meal is the stuff of legend. From the mahogany skin on a well-cooked turkey to trays of golden dressing filled with the nuts, mushrooms, and oysters of the season to the ribbed can form of cranberry sauce, the holiday table is a work of art.

But the best spreads hold a surprise. Someone has brought something unmentioned, unexpected, and amazing. It’s not an experimental atrocity like pea-filled guacamole. It’s not a “healthy” variant like low-cal garbanzo pasta mac and cheese. It is the wonder of Thanksgiving Meatballs.

Why have meatballs on Thanksgiving? Done right, meatballs cut the nonsense of the season. Flavor bombs without pretension, richness without starch, and a sucker punch of spice that cuts across pies, gravy, and performative piety. And they’re the specialty of Great Uncle Maxwell, whom no one actually knows how he’s actually related. Three glasses of wine into the meal will get to the story about your mom, the dead horse, and why the family is not invited to the county fair anymore.

Here are your Thanksgiving Meatballs of 2023, things we’re thankful for that surprised us.

Open Streets

Pike Street downtown was pedestrianized after tree uproar and renovation in summer 2023. Here Ray Dubicki corrects the “street closed” sign to reflect the actual use of the street. (Jordan Billingsley)

We know we are thankful for streets that are open to pedestrians, cyclists, businesses, eating, and all the things blocked by polluting automobiles. What’s surprising is how many new open streets appeared around Seattle this year.

Literally, one.

But the opening of a single block of Pike Street is an absolute coup. The city has resisted any restrictions to automobile traffic at neighboring Pike Place Market, though Seattle’s premier tourist attraction would benefit from not having oversized suburban assault vehicles rolling down the cobblestones. Call after call after call for such an improvement has gone unheeded. 

Of course, no one is more surprised Pike Street opened to pedestrians than the City itself. Redesign of Pike Street included a lot of parking, pretty paving, and the removal of trees. That last part had folks aghast: How could the city cut down a dozen aging, stunted specimens?!? Important people got involved, and the trees (or at least locations for replacement ones) were saved!

And, surprisingly, so was access to this street by pedestrians. Here’s to a 2024 when more streets can be opened for people. 

President Biden’s Strong Economy

A rendering of an elevated interstate bridge
A 2007 rendering of the planned Columbia River Crossing highway expansion between Washington and Oregon, now known as the Interstate Bridge Replacement project. (WSDOT)

The economic apocalypse has been looming for something close to three election cycles now. Through two off-year city council votes and one federal congressional election, the sky has been ready to fall. It’s been used to justify corporate layoffs, local austerity, and plenty of really dumb hot-takes.

And yet through all of 2022 and three-quarters of 2023, things have been chugging along pretty well. It’s starting to sound like those politicians cheering for a recession have an ulterior motive. Some folks, like the South Seattle Emerald‘s Brett Hamil, may have called out such a fact quite awhile ago.

Better, there is a lot of evidence that Bidenomics is working. The federal reversal of trickledown Reaganomics has been putting massive investments in middle-class building infrastructure. There is solid evidence that the Infrastructure Investment Act and the Inflation Reduction Act have moved the needle on equity and green jobs. We can disagree loudly about the specifics of a rebuilt highway bridge, but more money to support the people who do the work in this country is an objective good. 

Now, does inflation exist? Yes. Should it be blamed on people getting fair pay and $1,200 pandemic checks, or is inflation caused by hoarding mega-corporations leveraging tax cuts and wage theft into massive stock buybacks. Who is ever to know? Hint: it’s corporate greed. Remember that on November 5, 2024.

Magazine Stores

The Magazine section of Bulldog News in the U District (Bulldog News)

We miss physical media. Even as a completely-online journalistic enterprise, we acknowledge the visceral joy of holding a printed document as we read it. Pictures make it better. We love a good magazine. 

Which means we also have a soft spot for magazine stores. Actual physical structures where you can enter a place then flip through soft-backed bundles of shiny paper. There’s probably a tie to years of picking up comic books (and lingering around the magazine store’s pony-tailed, nit-picky cousin, the comic book shop). Unlike books, magazines are displayed to be judged by their covers. There’s something endearing being completely surrounded by these 9×12 windows on the world. Unfortunately, our current magazine shopping is often interrupted by the grocery conveyor belt.

The go-to magazine shop for the north side of the city is Bulldog News in the U District. This long standing neighborhood icon does all the displays and selection correctly, with a solid cup of coffee in front. Some local book shops have a magazine section, but that comes at the cost of the temptation of more books.

Record stores have made a comeback. Video stores, not so much, but we do have the fantastic Scarecrow Video, also in the U District. Maybe it’s time for magazine stores to re-emerge. Until then, we’ll appreciate the few we have.

The PNW’s Majestic Trees

Discovery Park’s Nebraska Street is lined by big shade trees. (Doug Trumm)

Let’s just take a moment to appreciate the trees of the Pacific Northwest. From the smallest gnarly Madrona to the largest Douglas Fir, our region is amazingly verdant. Better, every time a new apartment building goes up, we get to save acres of trees in the massive forested stands where tree density counts. And we can appreciate the fruit of those trees, in season.

Trees moved the needle on policy over the last year. There was those cherry trees down on Pike, mentioned above. And Seattle did get its long-promised tree ordinance in 2023. The new law is convoluted and full of perverse incentives. But it deeply irritated a bunch of anti-development people with the law’s carve out for new construction, so there’s that. 

Perhaps the surprise will be next year when the tree ordinance does actually save trees and does not cut into the development of new and much needed housing. Until then, we’ll celebrate Seattle’s trees as a Thanksgiving Meatball because it takes a reminder to not take them for granted.

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Ray Dubicki is a stay-at-home dad and parent-on-call for taking care of general school and neighborhood tasks around Ballard. This lets him see how urbanism works (or doesn’t) during the hours most people are locked in their office. He is an attorney and urbanist by training, with soup-to-nuts planning experience from code enforcement to university development to writing zoning ordinances. He enjoys using PowerPoint, but only because it’s no longer a weekly obligation.