Top 100 Urban Thinkers

The poll was active for one month, from August 7th to September 7th, 2009. We would never claim that this is a definitive list; voters were given free reign to submit and vote for whomever they liked. Our only caveat is that we cleared out a couple of submissions that were clearly in jest, such as "Jesus" (although I'm sure someone could make a legitimate argument for his influence on urban planning).

The other significant issue with this list that will surely be raised is the lack of women: only 9 out of the top 100 are female. This is countered somewhat by the impossibly wide lead by which Jane Jacobs takes the top spot. Those women who are included are an impressive crew, but of course, there are a significant number of women making a big difference in urban planning issues that aren't on the list.

The thinkers that are here are a fascinating bunch, ranging from planners of the past like Baron Haussmann, the civic planner that changed the face of Paris in the 19th century, to active thinkers of today like Scott Bernstein, President and Co-Founder of the Center for Neighborhood Technology. And to be honest, there were a handful of names that we didn't know. We hope that you'll also find a lot to chew on in these biographies, and we invite your comments.

As of now, we've only just begun filling in these biographies. Check back for more over the next month, and in another year, we'll start the poll up again and see who makes the cut.

For updates on our next poll, and for all the latest urban planning news, views, and jobs, sign up for the Planetizen Newswire, our twice-weekly news email.


would be cool to

divide the poll up into two polls -- most positive influence, and most negative influence.

I'd be curious to see who has harmed us more -- Moses? Le Corbusier? So many possible top villains!

also would be curious to see vote totals. but, i guess that might remove some of the mystery.

Very happy to see Nikos Salingaros get a solid nod -- he cracks me up. Kind of like Kunstler. They are disgusted, it seems, with bad design, and I just feel like, "Yeah, man! Yeah! This stuff sucks!" It's like people making common sense, talking in plain language, and language that cuts. Good stuff. :)

"We are not against tall buildings, but tall buildings seem to be against us."
--Nikos Salingaros

Optimum Height For CO2 Emissions Is 4 To 6 Stories

I appreciate the Salingaros video that you link to at

Lots of good arguments against highrises - particularly his argument that the optimum height for reducing CO2 emissions is 4 to 6 stories. At that height, you get most of the savings in transportation, and when you go higher than that, the additional energy embedded in the materials of the building and the heat gain from unshaded surfaces outweighs the savings in transportation. I am going to try to track down the engineering studies he talks about.

Charles Siegel


1 and 99 is how I see this list. She brought us humility... And surely her legacy will continue to challenge us and shape our dialogue. What a fitting tribute!

Traditionalists Lead The List

If you include only people who are alive and working today and remove the others, it becomes very obvious that supporters of Traditional Neighborhood Design lead the list:

Andrés Duany
Christopher Alexander
Léon Krier
Jan Gehl
Nikos A. Salingaros
James Howard Kunstler

Just as striking, all of those except Duany are explicitly against high-rises. And all without exception are adamantly against avant-gardist architecture.

I hope the starchitects read this list. It might shake their idea that only avant-gardist architecture is appropriate for our time.

Charles Siegel

Do you mean starchitects

Do you mean starchitects like Rem Koolhaas, #65 on the list? You've left out a number of other living people, including Peter Calthorpe, but the ideas are a great deal more varied than you suggest. I'd hardly describe Mike Davis as a New Urbanist.

Mr. Duany built postmodern skyscrapers before he turned to large-scale considerations. He's written that he isn't interested in debates about style - he's said in as many words that his ideas are controversial enough without fighting about aesthetic and conceptual considerations.

Starchitects Low On The List

Read more carefully, and note that my heading is "Traditionalists Lead The List." In my post, I pulled out the living people from the top twelve people on the list, which makes it very clear who leads the list. I did not include Rem Koolhaas, because being #65 on a list of 100 is not my idea of leading the list.

Duany has written that he is not interested in architectural style, and he has deliberately avoided debates about style by designing neighborhoods in the modernist style as well as in traditional styles and by using Tel Aviv and Miami's South Beach as examples of good urban design in the modernist style.

But he has also said that the difference between modernism and avant gardism is that you can make a good city out of modernist buildings but not out of avant gardist buildings. He is a critic of avant gardism, as I say: for example, when he was working on New Orleans after Katrina, he ridiculed the avant gardist designs for that city proposed by Reed Kroloff, dean of Tulane University School of Architecture at the time (and those designs richly deserved the ridicule).

Again, read more carefully and note that I began the post by saying "supporters of Traditional Neighborhood Design lead the list." Duany clearly is a supporter of traditional neighborhood design, though he accepts both modernist and traditional architectural design. His ideas about urban design were criticized by modernist urbanists - before his ideas became so totally dominant.

Charles Siegel

Top Urban Thinkers?

The results are intriguing. Chris Alexander #3 lives in the Berkeley hills at a location that would not be classified as "walkable" by Planetizen or any other standards. Do as I say and not as I do??? Where do the other great urban thinkers reside?? I'm thrilled to see my friend Jim Rojas ranked between Bucky Fuller and Henry George. Jim lives in downtown LA and is a true urbanist. While all, or most, of those on the list have had some impact on the development of our urban areas, it's clear that not all have had a positive influence. As a native New Yorker I enjoyed many of the fruits of Robert Moses's efforts (e.g. Jones Beach, Riverside Park) but also recognize the devastation that he wrought by projects like the Cross Bronx Expressway. Seems like we need some additional criteria.

Vivian Kahn, Oakland, CA

The Missing

One does wonder what happened to the ladies. Where is Jane Adams, Ellen Gates Star and Catherine Bauer?
Among the gentlemen Max Weber, Clarence Perry, Henrey Wright, Clarence Stien, Robert Park and Saul Alinsky are oddly absent.
Looks like we're falling down on the job here.

arturo soria not in the list

I recently read the book

I recently read the book Devil in the Whit City. It has a ton of information about Daniel Burnham (# 6). I had been hoping to see his name on this list and was so excited when I did. I would love to read other books about him. What an interesting man.

I'd be curious to see who

I'd be curious to see who has harmed us more -- Moses? Le Corbusier? So many possible top villains!

also would be curious to see vote totals. but, i guess that might remove some of the mystery.