Jim Chappell is one of San Francisco’s unsung heroes. Chappell, who is thoughtful, articulate, savvy, and pragmatic, has helped shape San Francisco into a modern city. Have you ever used SPUR’s Ballot Analysis to help you understand the county’s elections? Chappell writes those. Have you noticed that Union Square looks and feels better than it used to? Chappell worked on its redesign. Have you ever wondered how MUNI functions? Chappell makes sure that it works for its riders.
There are dozens of other projects on which Chappell worked during his tenure as SPUR’s Executive Director from which we benefit. There are many projects that are unknown because they are invisible to us, and this is because he has made it so we don’t have to think much about them. He has spent much of his career making San Francisco a manageable city (aside from housing prices, another he issue that he and SPUR work on consistently).
In our interview with Chappell, which was conducted in 2016 by Todd Holmes and Shanna Farrell, we explore some of the lesser known histories of planning in the city. By the virtue of his training and experience, he is an expert of what makes San Francisco function, what its greatest needs and challenges have been, and how to work within a system to affect change to keep it working for its residents. His interview is like the oral history version of the 99% Invisible podcast, and Chappell shares a part of San Francisco’s history that can’t be found elsewhere.