Brainstorm: Who Are the Top Urban Thinkers?

Planetizen is creating a list of the most important people who have shaped urban places, and we want to know what you think. Vote on people nominated by the Planetizen community, or suggest your own. The polls close September 7.

Planetizen is pleased to announce a new crowdsourcing experiment to rank the most influential urban thinkers of all time. Using our online polling system, users get 15 votes to nominate their own choices and vote on the choices of others. On Sept. 14th, we'll release the official results of the Top 50 Urban Thinkers poll. We've thrown in a small handful of ringers to get the conversation started.

The polls close September 7.

Whenever we put together a list such as this, there is inevitably controversy. First is the question of what we actually mean by the "top" urban thinkers. What about Le Corbusier (below), who remains an influential figure in architecture but has been labeled Enemy Number One by urban planners? Like Time Magazine,we've left the definition deliberately vague to encompass those who've had the most influence on the way we think about cities and/or how cities are shaped, for better or for worse.

We invite you to be creative and suggest urban planners, architects, artists, or everyday people. Author Upton Sinclair, for instance, would be a legitimate choice for his work as a muckraker and social activist in the city of Chicago. Reaching back to historical figures like Vitruvius or figures outside of the Western canon is also highly encouraged. Have fun, and as another Chicagoan once said, vote early and vote often.




Top Urban Thinkers

Lewis Mumford gets my vote as top urban thinker. Although Jane Jacob gives him a run for the money, Mumford was actually farther-sighted in the effect of cars and highways on cities, and understood better the dynamic of how cities work.


Alan Gummo, Associate Director, Comprehensive Community Planning, the Regional Municipality of Niagara, responsible for the update on the Growth Management Strategy for one of the more disfunctional regional municipalities in Canada and the co-founder with Robert (Private Sector) Miller of the Temporary Planning Institute of the World.

(aka Steven Rivers, MCIP, RPP
Program Support Officer
Defence Construction Canada
CFB Borden)

Top Urban Thinkers

I think one of the most influential urban thinkers is the former mayor of Curitiba Brazil, Jaime Lerner.

Roberta Gratz, and Jeanne

Cities: Back from the Edge by Roberta Gratz was very influential. It was an all encompassing book that helped me understand what Urbanism really was and how 'Community' was a key component. Also, my former professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design, Jeanne Lambin, helped me understand 'localism.' I'll never foget at a meeting with the city of Savannah, Jeanne said in conversation, "the suburbs really freak me out"....

Daniel Burnham

Louis Colombo
I think it would be helpful to understand Burnham's role in altering the direction of city planning, in my view, for the worse. City planning grew out of the urban reform movement in the tenement districts of major cities during the 1800s. The efforts included tenement housing construction standards, potable water and sanitary sewer systems, pre-school and public education, recreation, and so on. The First National City Planning Conference in Washington D.C. in 1909 was organized by these reformers. The author of the first modern text in city planning (also published in 1909), housing reformer Benjamin Marsh, wrote: "no city is more beautiful than its most unsightly tenement". By the second national conference, the planning field had been captured by the City Beautiful advocates, one of whose leaders was Daniel Burnham. This change in course for city planning, I believe, resulted in the lack of attention to the condition of ordinary working people and their neighborhoods. In some respects, Robert Moses was the most effective proponent of the City Beautiful Movement. Consequently, it was not until the public advocacy work of Jane Jacobs and the Gale Cincotta (who led the effort to eliminate mortgage and insurance red lining) that the sway of this planning trend was broken.

What? Don Shoup?

How is Don Shoup the second highest vote getter in this exercise? Are people stuffing the ballot?

I'm sure the work he has done is important and influential, but how can he be so far a head of greats like Daniel Burnham, Frederick Law Olmsted, Kevin Lynch, William Whyte, Lewis Mumford, Ian McHarg, etc.?

Seeing results like this makes me question the credibility of this informal poll of top urban thinkers.

Michael Lewyn's picture

The case for Shoup

I actually do think there is a strong case for Shoup. While other thinkers have addressed the "big picture" (often saying fairly similar things) Shoup has made one very narrow issue (parking) his home turf- and done it very well!


Are they posted anywhere? Nevermind...just saw the link.

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