It seems part of our DNA to take a “good enough” attitude when it comes to Memphis and to talk at length in conversations that aren’t about the pivotal – sometimes, uncomfortable – issues that can change the region’s trajectory.

That’s why we are excited by the presentation next week by Gabriel Metcalf, the president and CEO of SPUR.  It will take place Tuesday, October 26, at 6:00 p.m. at the Jack Robinson Gallery at 400 South Front.  The free event will be preceded at 5:30 p.m. by a “meet and greet” with Mr. Metcalf.

We have long admired the work of SPUR (San Francisco Area Planning and Urban Research Association), a member-supported organization that combats small thinking, that pushes the right agenda for public discussion, and challenges the conventional wisdom with research and solutions that drive change.

Big Ideas

For many years, we have pointed to SPUR as the model of what we need here to push boundaries and inform and influence wise public policies.

More than anything, it is a reliable source for “big ideas” that address structural and intractable problems but also work on issues that shape and define San Francisco/San Jose/Oakland’s future success.

Here we often aim lower because we don’t have enough money, enough support, or enough encouragement to aim high.  Memphis is fortunate to have hundreds of people doing good things to accomplish good goals, but when asked if they have a really big idea, they often say they’ve never been asked that before or they thought they could never sell a really big idea here.

In that context, it’s no wonder we have job centers without transit access, cheap electricity but high utility bills because of energy inefficient houses, neighborhoods without businesses or services within walking distance, people working two jobs who still live below the poverty line, and neighborhoods with half the density from 40 years ago.

A Change Agenda

But ideas alone aren’t enough.  As SPUR’s tagline, “Ideas + Action For A Better City,” suggests, progress only takes place when ideas are followed by action.  But as SPUR has proven, a really big, powerful idea can create a constituency for it that was previously unseen.

In addition, SPUR puts its big ideas in a framework articulated in “Our Agenda For Change,” which represents its vision for the San Francisco Bay Area.  The core drivers for the plan for realizing the vision are:

Concentrate growth inside existing cities

*  Build great neighborhoods.

*  Make it affordable to live here.

*  Give people better ways to get where they need to go.

*  Lay the foundations of economic prosperity – for everyone.

* Reduce our ecological footprint and prepare for climate change.

* Support local government.

Providing A Spark

From that rubric, SPUR’s research, education, and advocacy tackle all kinds of key issues in its promotion of good planning and good government.  Its must-read reports are definitive and foundational to understanding its region’s issues and opportunities, but they are also instructive for areas like ours.

Some of the reports’ subjects are about adding new jobs in transit-accessible employment centers, tax sharing, growing the region’s economy more sustainably, waterfront issues, modernizing the business tax, a fiscal strategy for investing in quality public services, a downtown for everybody, a cleaner future for the region’s energy, and rethinking the corporate campus.

Often, we know what we know, and with ­­­­intellectual provocation and additional information, we are able to think broader and inventively about issues that have bedeviled us for many years.   At the end of the day, that, as much as anything, is the contribution that SPUR makes to the San Francisco Bay Area, and it’s why we continue to wish for a similar organization for the Memphis region.

In the meantime, to better understand our enthusiasm and to learn more about SPUR and its impressive work, make plans to hear Mr. Metcalf next Tuesday.  RSVP to Amelia Crowley at


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