A lot of regional organization CEOs have stepped aside this year. Seems like it's time to put out the slate for new help. (Ray Dubicki)

To err is human, to admit the mistake is fodder for year-end commentary. Once again, we look through The Urbanist‘s 2023 rolls and see where we could have done better. It’s not just the little corrections here and there that need to be addressed and admitted to, it’s the big-picture issues that escaped our attention. Reflecting on the year that was, there are some trends we missed and connections un-connected. We regret not catching them before.

Correction – Use Correct Titles

In May, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority CEO Marc Dones announced they would be stepping down. This week, Sound Transit CEO Julie Timm announced she would leave the position in the new year. Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell left the Mayor’s Office in June. Arts leaders including Amanda Cruz from Seattle Art Museum and Christina Scheppelmann of the Seattle Opera announced their departures this year also. 

There’s a feeling that 2023 has been a turnover year for leadership of the region’s most difficult spots. Add to that the rightward flip of the Seattle City Council. Just the departure of long-tenured Socialist Alternative council member Kshama Sawant moved the needle a lot. Then five new council members of varying centrist credentials took the November election.

Our expectation of continuity may need correction. In the future, we may add “Imminent Former” to all titles of regional appointees. 

Mayor Jenny Durkan straps into a Blue Angels jet. (Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Ian Cotter)

Regret – The Blue Angels Have Always Been Problematic

This summer, guest contributors Barbara Clabots and Rachel Heaton published the opinion that Seattle Needs To Cancel the Blue Angels. Something about the sentiment led to a lot of feedback ranging from “yes, please” to “Who do you think you are?” Variation on terminology in both cases covered a lot of space between polite and profane.

The nerve hit by this article is interesting and profound. Clabots and Heaton wrote from their view as parents raising kids under polluted, carcinogen filled skies. Many responses skipped past any points made by the article and straight to “Why are you taking away our fun, [spoilsports]?!?” The [spoilsports] was often replaced with some anatomical part. This response doesn’t address the issues or answer the question of what airshow boosters will do when the view of pretty blue planes is obscured by the choking smoke caused in part by, say, airshows. 

We regret not questioning the place for air shows earlier and louder. Perhaps as loud as the deafening roar of spectator militarization.

Seattle Central Library is a glassy modernist building that cantilever out at the top.
Seattle Central is the heart of Seattle’s extensive system of libraries. (Linda Hanlon)

Correction – Spell Check! Always.

In my December 8 article about the Seattle Library’s Strategic Direction, I made a spelling error. Seattle’s Chief Librarian is Tom Fay, not Tom Ley as I wrote it. In the title. Insert crushing embarrassment here.

A full weekend of lingering mortification drove me to post-mortem what happened. I misspelled Tom’s name once – once! – when I added speaker notes to the computerized transcription of our conversation. The app propagated the misspelling through the document. By the end of editing, I had re-read the misspelling so many times that it looked right. Artificial Intelligence did not make this mistake, I did. I regret the error and the reliance on AI, and think there’s a lesson there for us all. Skynet doesn’t need to be murderous, only fatally embarrassing to get the job done.

Escala, 31-story luxury tower built in 2010. In the past year, the Escala homeowners’ association has aggressively blocked nearby proposed developments using lawsuits, appeals, and the design review process. (Andrew Engelson)

Regret – Escala Innuendo

In 2023, we got a look at the way a handful of residents of Downtown Seattle’s Escala luxury condos have used Design Review and lawsuits to block thousands of apartments and millions in Mandatory Housing Affordability revenue. Andrew Engelson combed through public records to come up with eight years of Escala slow rolling the Seattle Process to preserve their views and suppress neighbors. 

The Escala Building happens to be the setting for the erotic farce 50 Shades of Grey. Engelson is too good of a journalist to insert any BDSM references in his article. Appropriate innuendo could have included “dominating neighbors that ball-gaged development,” “cost the city more than a luxury sex dungeon,” “supplements to maintain the tallest erection in the neighborhood,” or “baseless lawsuits spanked by the judge.” The prospects are titillating. 

We regret not finding more bookcases to hide a few secret rooms behind. 

Fremont, Seattle’s always appropriately respected statue of V.I. Lenin. (Ray Dubicki)

Correction — Resume Updates

About a year ago, I responded to a help wanted ad. The Seattle Times posted an open position for an editorial writer. I may have submitted a writing sample that was critical of the paper’s long history of profiting off of exclusion and redlining. Kinda wanted to see if such a critique would get me an interview. To no one’s surprise, it didn’t.

The person who did get the position didn’t hold it for long. In July, David Volodzko took the standard Seattle newcomer affront to Fremont’s Lenin statue. Fine for a kickoff editorial, if amateur weaksauce, given the statue is for sale, on private property, and regularly improved with appropriate graffiti. It was Volodzko’s second act on the topic that raised questions, as he decided to succumb to some Twitter ridicule in a way that looked like a defense of Adolf Hitler

Unfortunately for Volodzko, his misstep occurred before Twitter’s complete disintegration into a right-wing booger-eating contest more useless than a Cybertruck. The Times canned him.

The correction here would have been to my initial resume to the Seattle Times. I omitted the line “I won’t defend 20th Century dictators on Twitter.” Might be useful in pursuing one of those Imminent Former regional appointments.

Regret – Can’t Make It Out Alone

We didn’t spend enough time listening to The Pogues this year. Or any year. And we listened to a lot, yelled it even more, but it was never enough. The Pogues are family cacophony as musical poetry. They carried forward the best Irish tradition of overstating the sorrowful depths and the rollicking heights to tease out one essential truth: We’re all we’ve got and that’s pretty good. It’s so traditional, it’s punk.

Now, lead singer Shane MacGowan has joined Sinead O’Connor and Ronnie Drew, and we’re left with memories. We regret the omission. Hopefully, the bells are ringing out wherever you are this holiday.

Article Author

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.