By now, no doubt, you have read scads summing up this decade drawing to a close, little of it good.

Time magazine waxed bombastic: "Call it the Decade from Hell, or the Reckoning, or the Decade of Broken Dreams, or the Lost Decade. Call it whatever you want - just give thanks that it is nearly over."

It is nearly over. No random period that includes the horrors of Sept. 11, a searing recession and spike in unemployment, ongoing wars, and the preventable devastation of a great city can ever be roundly praised. But a decade is simply the bundling of years by a calendar, and this analysis is from a profoundly American perspective.

In any decade, there will be earthquakes and floods and wars, young people who lose their lives for questionable purpose, communities and countries mired in poverty and marked by little progress. There is enough bad to go around. There always has been.

And yet the new year dawns with much that has improved or is heading in the right direction. If the United States Senate is as fractious as ever, at least the argument is over health care for all citizens, a monumentally important provision that is long overdue. Change has its critics. But who today would argue against Social Security or civil rights or other guarantees that make our system more equitable and enlightened?

Instead of denying climate change, countries and companies have become more engaged about stemming it. Green is big business, and if it's born of opportunism, so be it. Increasingly, people are modifying behavior to accomplish long-term improvements not just for the benefit of our immediate community.

We can view the country as being continually divided by politics, outlooks, priorities, that we're stuck having the same arguments, and that's certainly valid. Yet change has come. At the beginning of Time's "Decade From Hell," nobody could have convinced me that an African American would be elected president by now - or even in our lifetime. It's thrilling. When critics bellow that Obama has done too little in office, my thought is "Oh, really? How much did you accomplish in the first 11 months on the job?" The amount of issues this White House has taken on has been astounding.

In Pennsylvania, often allergic to progress, the attorney general indicted legislators indulging in backroom politics. Vince Fumo is no longer the prince of appropriations. Though Gov. Rendell may be too hooked on gambling as financial caulk, he's been a boon to Philadelphia in a hostile capital where the city has too few friends, fighting for money for public schools and other projects.

In City Hall, Mayor Nutter and City Council continue to tangle. It takes far too long to get the obvious done, a sad truth I fear will never change. But at least we have a mayor who is honest, committed to transparency, and beholden to no businesses, large or small. The police have a better chief. And if the school district is still battered and its administration marked by serious missteps, even the poorest children have more choices of where they attend class. Seth Williams, who will become district attorney Monday, is at least listening and asking the right questions about why too many defendants walk free in a clogged court system that isn't dispensing enough justice.

On a more entertaining note, during the Decade From Hell our food choices improved, vastly. Beer improved. Television, believe it or not, improved. OK, it selectively improved. The Wire, The Sopranos, 30 Rock - and Jersey Shore. Our movie stars improved: George Clooney and Meryl Streep, screen goddess at 60. And, lest we forget, the 2000 Phils finished fifth in the NL East, 65-97, before the team finished the decade with back-to-back trips to the World Series.

The end of one year, the beginning of the next. The smart tack is not to be reductive, to go entirely negative or listen to those people forced to make pithy declarations and sum up a decade no one could quite name in the first place at the beginning of a century, a millennium when there is so much, good and otherwise, to come. You can curse the darkness or be buoyed by hope and progress.

Contact columnist Karen Heller at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com.