After working about a year to get former National Endowment for the Arts director of design Jeff Speck to Memphis, we were unfortunately unable to attend his presentation last week.

More unfortunate was the fact that his presentation – replete with specific insights for improving the quality of life in Memphis through better design and architecture – did not get the headlines that it deserved.

Our colleague Carol Coletta originally conceived of Mr. Speck’s three-day intensive tour of Memphis, and we were pleased that a number of prominent local organizations responded to our requests for funding to bring him here. In the end, a prior engagement in Liverpool, England, prevented Ms. Coletta’s attendance, and the rest of us were regrettably unable to make it either.

Design As A Priority

However, more to the point, we are fortunate that a cadre of leading citizens recognized the value of this unique opportunity to obtain important perspectives about our city.

Much too often, here, urban design is seen as some elitist interest with little importance to Memphis. Mr. Speck powerfully reminded us of why this is not so, and that we continue to ignore design issues at our own peril. We see the results of this benign neglect all around us, and Mr. Speck laid out a dozen recommendations to change the face of our city and the course of our history.

As we expected, Mr. Speck was honest and insightful, but most of all, his suggestions were actionable and now become an indispensable and invaluable foundation for the work of the Memphis Regional Design Center.

Getting Started Right

It’s hard to imagine how the fledgling center – much-needed and with great potential – could have a better guide as it sets out on its urgent journey to improve our city.

To learn more about Mr. Speck’s presentation, we recommend a May 4 post by one of our city’s best bloggers, Gates of Memphis, and an article in last week’s Memphis Flyer by one of our best urban observers, Mary Cashiola.

We won’t repeat the content of their reports, but when this presentation was envisioned, it was not so much intended to be a single event as the launching of a movement built on what we need more – recommendations by nationally-recognized authorities.

As a result, the proof of Mr. Speck’s presentation is yet to come, but based on the prominent sponsors who brought him to Memphis, there should be immediate momentum to make sure that recommendations do not merely become a cogent report on some prominent shelves around the city, but become a blueprint for the future of our city.

To follow up his presentation, Mr. Speck will write a report which will elaborate on his recommendations and give more details, but in the end, it’s not just up to the sponsors of the presentation to implement them but all of us who care about the livability of Memphis.