Leading Thinkers in Urban Planning & Technology

Planetizen founding Editor Chris Steins offers his evaluation of the top 25 thinkers at the intersection of planning and technology.

14 minute read

April 26, 2011, 4:31 PM PDT

By Chris Steins

By Chris Steins

In the last five years, there has been tremendous innovation at the intersection of urban planning and technology. The opening of government data has been a major catalyst, as well as the crowdsourcing, mapping and social networking opportunities afforded by the expanding capabilities of the Internet.

As my personal and professional interests meet at this intersection, I am often asked by colleagues to make connections among professionals in the field. Through these networks, and my own research keeping up with the latest news and innovations, I've developed a strong sense of who's who in this field.

Over the past year, I have refined this list of 25 leading thinkers and innovators in the field of Urban Planning and Technology. My list includes a broad range of people, from established academics and CEOs to freelance developers and students, from the U.S. and abroad.

In alphabetical order, I'm pleased to present my list of the Top 25.

Dr. Michael BattyDr. Michael Batty
Director, Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, University College London

Dr. Batty's interests focus on wayfinding, urban growth, and the digital divide using the latest software and hardware to understand complex urban planning problems. As director of the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Dr. Batty leads research on emerging computer technologies in several disciplines which deal with geography, space, location, and the built environment. His book, Cities and Complexity (2005), was recognized with the Regional Science Association's Alonso Memorial Prize.

Ben BerkowitzBen Berkowitz
CEO and Co-Founder, SeeClickFix

SeeClickFix allows anyone to report and track non-emergency issues anywhere in the world via the Internet. This empowers citizens, community groups, media organizations and governments to take care of and improve their neighborhoods. For example, in Philadelphia, an engaged citywide advocacy group used SeeClickFix to mobilize citizens to document instances of vehicle idling, leading to new initiatives to help clean the air. The inspiration for SeeClickFix came from Mr. Berkowitz's desire to improve his own community with his neighbors and his government, and he was named Huffington Post's 2010 Tech Gamechanger.

Scott BernsteinScott Bernstein
President and Co-Founder, Center for Neighborhood Technology

Mr. Bernstein leads the Center for Neighborhood Technology's work to understand and better disclose the economic value of resource use in urban communities, and helps craft strategies to capture the value of this efficiency in the local community. Mr. Bernstein masterminded strategies to show the hidden assets underpinning transit and smart growth planning, and he introduced the concept of location-efficient mortgages. He also co-founded the Center for Transit-Oriented Development, which created the nation's first National TOD Database, covering all 4,000 existing and developing TOD sites in the U.S.

Dr. Manuel CastellsDr. Manuel Castells
University Professor and the Wallis Annenberg Chair in Communication Technology and Society, University of Southern California

Dr. Castells is the heavyweight of this list, and has been helping planners understand the complex nature of our networked society for three decades. Dr. Catells is the world's fifth most cited social sciences scholar and the foremost cited communications scholar. He is the author of 22 academic books and editor or co-author of 21 additional books, as well as over 100 articles in academic journals. Perhaps his most important publication is the trilogy, The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture, first published in 1996, has been reprinted 20 times and translated into 20 languages. His most recent book is Communication Power (2009).

Dr. Mark ElliottDr. Mark Elliott
Founder and Director, Collabforge

Dr. Elliott led the reengineering of the City of Melbourne's strategic city planning process to allow for broad participation, using a technology tool called a wiki. The result was Future Melbourne, the world's first "city plan that anyone could edit". Building on this award-winning effort, Mr. Elliot has launched a consulting firm, Collabforge, and led participation projects -- often involving the use of wikis and similar collaborative technologies -- in Australia and the US.

Dr. Jennifer Evans-CowleyDr. Jennifer Evans-Cowley
Associate Professor & Section Head, City and Regional Planning, The Ohio State University

As an Associate Professor, engaging writer, consultant, and speaker, Dr. Evans-Cowley seems to be everywhere at once. Prior to becoming a professor she worked as a planner in several cities and is well-known for her innovative research and writing on a range of participatory planning technologies, from the use of social networking to crowdsourcing and beyond. Dr. Evans-Cowley is a sought-after speaker for her energetic and enlightening presentations on how planners can use innovative tools to improve their cities and regions. She is a also a superstar among younger planners for helping thousands of professionals pass the AICP exam through Planetizen's AICP Exam Preparation course.

Dr. Marcus FothDr. Marcus Foth
Associate Professor and Principal Research Fellow, Institute for Creative Industries and Innovation, Queensland University of Technology

Dr. Foth studies how to engage citizens through social networking. His research explores human-computer interaction design and development at the intersection of people, place and technology with a focus on urban informatics, locative media and mobile applications. Dr. Foth's most recent book is Handbook of Research on Urban Informatics: The Practice and Promise of the Real-Time City, and is currently co-editing the book, From Social Butterfly to Engaged Citizen for MIT Press (2011). If you'd like to catch up with Dr. Foth, you can see him at the 5th International Conference on Communities and Technologies 2011 in Brisbane, where he is the conference chair.

Rob Goodspeed Rob Goodspeed
PhD Student, Urban Information Systems, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Mr. Goodspeed is interested in how technology can improve cities by making urban planning decisions more democratic and informed. In his current research, he explores the social, political, and practical dimensions of the use of Internet tools for participation in urban planning. Mr. Goodspeed is also the co-founder of DCist.com, and Rethink College Park, a contributor to Planetizen's Interchange Blog, and he recently convened a conference on technology and planning, Planning Tech. Previously, he worked as a research analyst at the Boston Metropolitan Area Planning Council, where he helped run the MetroBoston DataCommonwebsite.

Dr. Eric GordonDr. Eric Gordon
Associate Professor, Visual and Media Arts, Emerson College
Director, Engagement Game Lab, Emerson College

Dr. Gordon focuses on location-based media, mediated urbanism, and games for civic engagement. He is the director of The Engagement Game Lab, a research lab which explores the premise that through the careful design of new media, we can help communities better deliberate, plan, learn, and have fun. Dr. Gordon, along with his colleague Gene Koo, a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, were awarded a MacArthur Foundation grant for their innovative experiments in community planning using a virtual world called Second Life. He is the co-author of a new book about location-based media called Net Locality: Why Location Matters in a Networked World (2011).

Adam GreenfieldAdam Greenfield
Managing Director, Urbanscale LLC

Mr. Greenfield is interested in intersection of design, technology and culture, with an increasing focus on how these things interact in cities. In 2010, he launched Urbanscale, a consulting firm that seeks to bring a user-centered approach to the design of urban interfaces. For example, his current work on Project PERRY focuses on enabling value cards (like transit passes) to display the value of the card using an e-ink technology (similar to the Kindle) that requires only minimal energy. Mr. Greenfield was previously Head of Design Direction for Service & User Interface Design at Nokia and also is the author of Everyware: The dawning age of ubiquitous computing (2006), called "groundbreaking" by Bruce Sterling. Most recently Mr. Greenfield co-authored a pamphlet called Urban Computing and its Discontents(2007), which is a free publication about informatics.

Nick GrossmanNick Grossman
Director of Civic Works, OpenPlans

Mr. Grossman focuses on making cities more usable and livable through the application of technology.  At OpenPlans, he oversees development of new products around open city technology strategy, sustainable transportation, and local civic engagement. His work supports open city projects such as Civic Commons, Open311, OpenBlock, OpenTripPlanner, OneBusAway and TransportationCamp. He joined OpenPlans in 2006 to produce Streetsblog and Streetfilms. Earlier this year Mr. Grossman's work with the New York MTA enabled buses in Brooklyn to tell the Internet where they are, as part of a pilot to demonstrate that it's possible to track buses using existing hardware and open source software.

Chris HallerChris Haller
Principal, Urban Interactive Studio LLC

Mr. Haller is the founder of Urban Interactive Studio LLC, a technology consulting firm specializing in Web solutions for urban planning agencies. Mr. Haller is an information architect for aiding complex decision-making processes, and blogs at Engaging Cities. He is the founder of TextTheMob and Guerrilla Tweets, two interesting experiments using mobile applications to facilitate public participation. Prior to starting his own firm, Mr. Haller assisted Placematters in developing a new cloud-based keypad polling system. Mr. Haller holds a Master's degree in planning from Technische Universität Berlin.

John HankeJohn Hanke
VP Product Management for Geo at Google

Mr. Hanke founded Keyhole, Inc., which was acquired by Google in 2004 and whose flagship product became Google Earth. Hanke is currently the vice president of Product Management for Google's geo products, which include Google Maps, Earth, Local Search, Transit, Street View, SketchUp and special initiatives such as Google Ocean and Sky.  Before he began working in the field of technology Mr. Hanke worked in foreign affairs for the U.S. government in Washington D.C. and Southeast Asia. In addition to an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business, Mr. Hanke holds a BA in planning from The University of Texas at Austin.

BSteven Berlin JohsonSteven Berlin Johnson
Author, Entrepreneur

Mr. Johnson is a prolific author and founder of several influential websites. He was founder and Editor in Chief of FEED, one of the earliest online magazines. He also co-founded outside.in, a website that maps online conversations to real-world neighborhoods, and which was recently acquired by AOL. Mr. Johnson writes about an incredibly wide range of topics, many of which provide a playful yet thought-provoking perspective of how technology is shaping our communities. Among his books are Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software (2002), The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How it Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World (2006), and his most recent book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation(2010), which tells the stories of great ideas and thinkers across several disciplines.   

Michael Kwartler Michael Kwartler
Executive Director and President, Environmental Simulation Center

Mr. Kwartler is an architect, planner, urban designer, and educator. He is the founder of the Environmental Simulation Center, a non-profit research laboratory created to design and develop innovative applications of information technology for community planning, design, and decision-making. Kwartler directed the design and development of the popular CommunityViz software, which was the first GIS based software to integrate virtual reality with scenario design, impact analysis, and policy simulation. His book, co-authored with Gianni Longo, Visioning and Visualization: People, Pixels, and Plans, was recognized by Planetizen as a Top 10 Book in 2009.

Dr. John D. LandisDr. John D. Landis
Crossways Professor of City and Regional Planning, Department Chair; Urban Spatial Analytics Academic Director, The University of Pennsylvania School of Design

Dr. Landis' research focuses on modeling and simulating urban growth and on the impacts of urban development on the natural environment. He has been a pioneer integrating the use of geographic information systems and urban analysis. He coordinated the development of the California Urban Futuresseries of urban growth models and is currently engaged in a National Science Foundation-funded project to model, forecast, and develop alternative spatial scenarios of U.S. population and employment patterns and their impacts on travel demand, habitat loss, and water use through 2050.

Alexa MillsAlexa Mills
Community Media Specialist, Community Innovators Lab (CoLab), Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Ms. Mills combines her passion for stories and bottom-up urban planning by working directly with communities to develop media that expresses their perspective on various issues. Ms. Mills runs CoLab Radio, a project of CoLab, which supports the development and use of knowledge from excluded communities to deepen civic engagement and improve community practice. Ms. Mills' work includes Predatory Tales, the true stories of predatory lending scams in Lawrence, Massachusetts and an interactive map of Tambo de Mora, Peru, hand-drawn by local teenagers.

Christian MaderaChristian Madera
Web and New Media Manager, National Capital Planning Commission

A self-described urban planner and tech geek, Mr. Madera has spent the last decade working in the fields of urban planning policy and web technology. As a former managing editor of Planetizen and accomplished web developer, he has a unique hands-on perspective on how Internet and mobile technologies can empower planners and citizens. As the Web and New Media Manager for the National Capital Planning Commission, he is responsible for the development of the agency's new open government plan, which includes a array of initiatives aimed at increasing transparency and public participation using online and mobile technologies. Mr. Peralta also authored the Open Cities column for Next American City as a 2010 Rockefeller Urban Leaders Fellow, and chaired the City Planning, Civic Engagement and the Internet Summitat Princeton University in 2009.

Pablo MonzonPablo Monzon
Co-CEO & Founder, GIS Planning

Mr. Monzon is the founder and Co-CEO of  GIS Planning, a technology consulting firm that provides geographic information systems (GIS) software to simplify the process of business attraction and site selection for expanding and relocating businesses. Over 12,500 cities including the majority of the 100 largest cities in the United States use GIS Planning's software, created by Mr. Monzon and based on ESRI's popular mapping software. Mr. Monzon is recognized as one of the leading experts in ArcIMS and ArcGIS application development in the industry. Mr. Mozon was also a Fulbright Scholar, and holds a Masters degree in City Planning from U.C. Berkeley and a Bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering.

Carlo RattiCarlo Ratti
Director, SENSEable City Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Mr. Ratti is a civil engineer and architect who teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he directs the SENSEable City Laboratory. His work focuses on how sensors and mobile devices are transforming our built environment and revolutionizing our idea of the smart city. He is a also a regular contributor of articles on architecture to the magazines Domus and Casabellaand several Italian newspapers.

Ken SnyderKen Snyder
CEO, President, PlaceMatters

As the President of PlaceMatters, Mr. Snyder continues to push the bounds on using technology to enable more effective community participation in planning. Mr. Snyder is an expert on a broad range of tools to aid the process of community design and decision-making. He previously led the Orton Family Foundation's Planning Tools Program, and was director of the Tools Program for the US Department of Energy, where he developed the earliest comprehensive listing of planning software used for planing. Earlier this year, PlaceMatters broke new ground with the launch of a do-it-yourself (DIY) touchtable integrated with CommunityVizand Brainstorm Anywhere to facilitate community design processes.

Matthew SomervilleMatthew Somerville
Web Developer

Mr. Somerville is a talented freelance web developer based in Birmingham, UK. In addition to other projects, he works for mySociety, a not-for-profit company that runs most of the best-known democracy and transparency websites in the UK, such as TheyWorkForYou, FixMyStreet and WriteToThem. Mr. Somerville studied Math at Trinity College, Oxford and worked in civil service in Cheltenham prior to becoming a freelance programmer. In his free time he manages the popular Accessible UK Train Timetables website. He recently developed a brilliant London Underground Live train map, which shows all trains on the London Underground network in approximately real time.

Holly St. ClairHolly St. Clair
Data Services Director, Metropolitan Area Planning Council

As the Director of Data Services at MAPC, Ms. St. Clair oversees the agency's activities in the fields of data management, data analysis, research, and public access to data. She has pioneered the use of advanced decision support tools in Metropolitan Boston, managing a variety of projects that use scenarios modeling, 3-D environments, community indicators, and innovative meeting formats to engage stakeholders in dialogue about policy choices. Ms. St. Clair is also the quiet heavy lifter behind the process and structure of Boston's MetroFuture Initiative, and has been pivotal in the creation of the Boston Data Commons, a data portal and interactive web mapper that puts hundreds of data layers at the fingertips of residents, public officials. Ms. St. Clair is collaborating with Dr. Eric Gordon to begin creating a planning-based gaming platform to help residents become more involved in community planning.

Dr. Anthony TownsendDr. Anthony Townsend
Director of Technology Development. Institute for the Future

Dr. Townsend has been studying the connections between technology, urbanism and innovation for over 15 years. His interests span several interrelated topics: mobility and urbanization, innovation systems and strategy, science and technology parks and economic development. Dr. Townsend received a Fulbright scholarship in 2004 to study the social impacts of broadband in South Korea. He was also one of the original founders of NYCwireless, a pioneer in the municipal wireless movement that promotes the use of public-access Wi-Fi in the development of local communities. His recent work includes mapping the future of cities, information and inclusion.

Sarah WilliamsSarah Williams
Director,  Spatial Information Design Lab, Columbia University
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation, Columbia University

Ms. William's work focuses on the representation of digital information in planning. For example, her work on the Million Dollar Blocksproject resulted in a reworking of the justice system focusing on investing in neighborhoods where criminals live rather than in neighborhoods where crime happens. Ms. Williams  also teaches GIS and data visualization at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP).

Chris Steins is Planetizen's co-Editor-in-Chief, and the founder and chief executive of Urban Insight, Inc., the Internet consulting firm that operates Planetizen. Chris has 15 years of experience in technology consulting and urban planning and has served as a consultant to public sector state, county and local agencies, Fortune 500 private firms, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations. He is also the co-author of a children's book on urban planning. You can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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