Issue 546 October 2015

It's Official! SPUR Is a Regional Organization

This change in governance is a major step forward in the vision of SPUR as a regional organization that does deep work in the three major cities of the Bay Area.

Gabriel Metcalf
Urbanist Article October 13, 2015

This month marks a significant milestone in the transformation of SPUR. Effective October 1, SPUR is operating under new bylaws that legally incorporate our San Jose and Oakland offices, together with San Francisco, into our organizational governance structure. This is the biggest change in SPUR’s 105-year history and a major step forward in the vision of SPUR as a regional organization that does deep work in the three major cities of the Bay Area.

What started as an idea is now reality. We see this evolution as a scaling-up of our work, enabling us to have a bigger impact on the things we care about. This kind of change brings many challenges, of course, but we believe that SPUR is now positioned to be even more effective as an organization over the next century.

The Central City Strategy

Ten years ago, the SPUR Board of Directors made a strategic decision to expand, to take our knowledge of how to make successful urban places to San Jose and Oakland and strengthen our regional work through a central city strategy. We see these three central cities as critically important places for our region to grow in a way that increases sustainability and access to opportunity.

In January 2012, we launched a SPUR office in San Jose as a prototype. We were incubated in the offices of 1stACT and received tremendous support from civic leaders, elected officials, foundations, businesses and residents in San Jose. The last three years have been a huge learning experience for SPUR, and we are proud to have been able to contribute to important efforts in San Jose. We’ve published several major policy reports and weighed in on dozens of policy issues ranging from mobility to urban design to San Jose’s 2040 General Plan.

With increasing growth in membership and major support from the Knight Foundation, we opened a SPUR San Jose Urban Center where we have thus far convened over one hundred educational forums and numerous workshops for a growing community of urbanists in the South Bay.

This year, we launched SPUR Oakland. We have a large community of Oakland members and our forums in Oakland are selling out weeks in advance. Our first report, “A Downtown For Everyone,” released in September, presents a comprehensive set of strategies to help guide the evolution of downtown Oakland. This fall, we are opening a ground floor space on Broadway, which will allow us to provide many more events, educational programs and gathering space for partners to come together to hold essential conversations and debates about the city’s future.

We enter into our work in Oakland, as we did in San Jose, with great humility about how much we have to learn. We are doing out best to bring our own knowledge about problems and solutions, from cities all over the country and all over the world, to bear on the key issues we face here in the Bay Area.

The New Organizational Model

SPUR’s unique Board of Directors model has always been a major source of our organization’s strength. In addition to performing the legal functions of a board and raising the money that allows us to do our work, SPUR Board members are active contributors to the task forces that develop SPUR’s policy recommendations and support our education and advocacy efforts. The SPUR Board brings together many different voices and viewpoints to hold serious civic conversations and exercise judgment about how to solve the issues our cities face.

The working board model is one SPUR wants to hold on to. The organizational challenge was how to scale up SPUR’s board governance model to a larger geography. How do we converse on our large, diverse board to make decisions across three cities, as well as ones of regional import? How do we stay coordinated across the region while recognizing that the real action is at the local level? How do we provide a regionally consistent vision while still empowering leaders in each community to work out their own solutions?

The model we’ve arrived at strives to find this balance. The SPUR Board of Directors has now been expanded to formally include three City Boards — one each for San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland — overseen by one regional Executive Board. Each City Board has responsibility for setting strategy for the work done in their respective city and for raising the funds to support that work. The Executive Board brings together leaders from all cities to coordinate our work across the region.

We believe this model can support our vision to do deep work in the three central cities of the Bay Area while simultaneously working towards a coherent regional vision. We will continue to fine-tune it as we grow and learn.

SPUR remains one organization, with one staff, one board and one mission: to promote good planning and good government. We are so grateful to our members for supporting this regional expansion, and it’s because of the generosity of thousands of SPUR members and donors who have understood the potential of this vision.

This is only the beginning. We’ve built an organization that will be able to have an enormous impact on the city and regional scale to promote a livable, sustainable, prosperous urban Bay Area.

Thank you.

About the Authors: 

Gabriel Metcalf is SPUR's President and CEO.

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