One year ago, I introduced folks to my neighborhood map, tacked up on the wall behind my desk, currently flanked by a Howard Dean sticker and a collection of press passes. The pale yellow-and-blue map is dotted with plastic pushpins marking the spots I've visited since The Stranger's Neighborhood installments debuted in early 2002.

A few neighborhoods got most of the attention in 2003, thanks to an aggressive agenda from the mayor's office and a vocal group of neighbors who came together as the Cross-Town Coalition (CTC) to put a check on Mayor Nickels' proposals. "The neighborhoods are in a much better position now. They've gotten organized," says John Fox, one founder of the Cross-Town Coalition. They had plenty to organize around: I mean, South Lake Union isn't even visible anymore under all of the pins on my map, each marking a story. Northgate also got poked a few times, during the course of the tug of war over Northgate Mall redevelopment this year. And Capitol Hill had more than its fair share, between junkies taking over a neighborhood park and the mayor ignoring the faltering business district.

Activists like Fox were busy keeping up with issues in South Lake Union all year long. In January, neighbors were thrilled that Vulcan stopped trying to stack the neighborhood council with folks friendly to the company's biotech agenda. But by mid-spring, the mayor's office had put Vulcan's priorities front and center on the city's calendar, bolstering Vulcan's bid for financial and legislative support from the city. Activists, meanwhile, tried to put the brakes on the city's biotech dreams through petitions, press conferences, and even an official complaint with the city--to no avail. The city council officially jumped in this fall, when it passed a biotech-friendly land-use amendment and accepted $6 million in state and federal funds for a neighborhood streetcar (just $295,000 can be used in 2004, and only for preliminary things like determining ridership, not designing the line). Next year, the council will wrestle with the mayor's two-way Mercer Street proposal (the city needs regional funding first), and it'll analyze the streetcar numbers.

In Northgate, neighbors--like CTC member Jan Brucker--were suspicious of the mayor early in the year, convinced that he was meeting behind closed doors with mall owner Simon Property Group, Inc. They were right: In April, the mayor unveiled his mall-friendly plan--which he had quietly worked out with Simon--to eliminate neighborhood planning regulations and allow the mall to expand. But in November, taking up the neighbors' case, a city council majority revealed its surprise counterplan. The council's power play forced Nickels to the negotiating table, where they quickly hammered out a compromise. The new plan satisfies neighbors, and lets the mall start developing 230,000 square feet of space. Also, next year the city will decide whether or not to buy a chunk of land from Simon to build a drainage pond.

While it wasn't a focus for CTC members, Capitol Hill was a neighborhood-activist hotbed in 2003 as well. While the mayor was "unlocking" Northgate and South Lake Union, he was ignoring Capitol Hill's ailing Broadway business strip, which suffered from too many empty storefronts and a perception of declining public safety. Taking matters into their own hands, Broadway property owners like Sy Iffert pushed for a study of the height restrictions for buildings on the street. The property owners want the green light to build taller, so they can create developments with housing above retail that can reinvigorate the neighborhood. After deprioritizing the heights study for a year, the city finally jumpstarted the study, which wrapped up just a few weeks ago and bolstered property owners' arguments: The city needs to lift height restrictions on Broadway to spur development, the analysts said. The study also cited public safety concerns as a roadblock to a vibrant Broadway. In that arena, an ad hoc coalition of citizens came together this summer to address problems in Cal Anderson Park, where public drinking and drug use were taking over. With the help of City Council Member Nick Licata, the activists won more public-safety and social-services dollars for 2004. As for Broadway, stay tuned to see if the council lifts height restrictions in 2004.

In other neighborhoods, the issues may not have been driven by city-policy battles, but frankly, that made them more fun. On the Ave in the University District, a problematic street fair--the booths were set up in front of many Ave shops, blocking access--left many shop owners pissed off at the neighborhood chamber of commerce. Chris Walsh, a 25-year-old shop owner (he runs the Wall poster shop), led a mini-mutiny, trying to overthrow the chamber's leadership (he was unsuccessful). "They don't do shit," Walsh still says about the chamber. He won't have to deal with them for much longer, however: Walsh is selling his Ave business at the end of the month. Pioneer Square gallery owners pleaded with the city to move (or end) an informal, outdoor street fair that takes place during Pioneer Square's First Thursday. Gallery owners like Greg Kucera said the carnival-like event infringed on the long-standing--and more refined--gallery night. The city intervened, and is set to roll out a final compromise by the time you read this. The Fremont Sunday Market, which I wrote about last year when its neighbor, Sound Mind and Body gym, tried to shut it down, prevailed in court this year--Fremont denizens can continue to hawk antiques and crafts in the streets of Fremont every weekend. "The market continues into the dead of winter," says market proprietor Jon Hegeman, but he notes that Sound Mind and Body is appealing the judge's earlier decision to dismiss the gym's case.Near the shores of Lake Washington, there were two slivers of land that neighbors battled over. Though these squabbles didn't garner the headlines that, say, eight parking spaces near a strip club on Lake City Way got, they were actually more significant battles--the land in question was public. Lastly, Stephen Hill, the guy who decked out his Ford Escape with lemon paraphernalia to get Ford Motor Company's attention (Hill says he was scared to drive the vehicle after having numerous severe mechanical problems with it), happily resolved his situation, but declines to discuss it, citing the agreement he made with Ford. Let's just say his car no longer sports a lemon sculpture on top.

amy@thestranger.com