Introducing the Metro Ideas Project

Over the past five years, midsize cities have been on the frontlines of some of the most important policy challenges of our time.

In 2012 a California city struggling to cope with losses to its economy after the Great Recession became the largest city in America to ever file bankruptcy, foreshadowing a similar fate that soon hit Detroit. A small suburb of St. Louis became the epicenter for an explosive national conversation about police violence and civil rights for black Americans. In one of the poorest communities in the country, clean drinking water has become a scarce commodity requiring federal intervention in part because of an aggressive state policy that overrode local control.

Here at home, Chattanooga has itself captured national attention, from a proxy conversation about the role of municipal utilities through the expansion of our city-built Internet service to a nightmarish incident of domestic terrorism.

But for every critical issue that captures the rapt attention of cable news and major American dailies, there are countless others that remain the quiet focus of local elected officials and administrators. Midsize cities are often expected to tackle big policy challenges with few guidelines, resources or available data.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of research organizations in the United States focusing on public policy are not particularly concerned with midsize communities. They focus instead on macro-trends, federal and state issues, and urban policies for cities with more than five million people. That’s what inspired our decision to launch the Metro Ideas Project, which is devoted to the research, analysis and design of public policies that help make midsize cities work better for people.

Our team of talented policy thinkers is assembled from a diverse set of backgrounds. Our ranks include a former government reporter with a knack for code, an applied researcher for several international and federal institutions and a communications strategist from the advertising and startup sector. This diversity and mix of skills and experience is intentional. Rather than building an organization catering to a select group of academics and policymakers, we will strive to make our research accessible, compelling and meaningful to real people.

Over the past several weeks, we have been meeting with community leaders in our own city to shape and focus our research agenda. Through that process, we’ve learned that unpacking a complex and opaque education finance system could help us make better policy choices as we decide how best to teach our kids. Elected officials and voters alike express frustration with the mechanisms available to engage government. And there’s a need to better understand how housing policy can impact economic and racial segregation that looms large over the place we call home.

In the coming weeks and months ahead, I am excited to share the findings from the research those discussions inspire. That work will span across different issues and places and seek to provide a wider context to some of the toughest policy questions cities face today.

Beyond simply breaking down problems, we want to propose solutions as well. We intend to start conversations through blog posts, interactive graphics, maps, podcasts and community events that build upon our analysis by exploring those issues and themes with you.

In the meantime, we want to hear from as many people as possible. What are the pressing issues facing your community? What policy areas do you think are overlooked? What should we focus on next? Let us know by connecting with us on Twitter, Facebook or email.

Joda Thongnopnua

Executive director

Joda Thongnopnua has a background in communications and advertising. He worked with major retail brands, international non-governmental organizations, and startups prior to founding the Metro Ideas Project in 2016.