While Jane Jacobs remains the grand dame of urbanists, her trail blazing observations and activism are only part of a robust urban movement. Her work, as well as that of people like Kevin A. Lynch and William H. Whyte, inspired countless others to fight for dynamic and robust urban cores.
Here are ten of my favorite contemporary urban thinkers who are advancing the efforts of urbanism (in no particular order):
- Andrés Duany: I recently met and talked with Duany during a visit to Phoenix and was impressed by his openness and observations. While best known for his new urbanist developments such as Seaside, Florida and Kentlands, Maryland, Duany is deeply involved in a range of issues concerning the urban environment. Of particular interest is how people perceive and navigate our cities.
- Ellen Dunham-Jones: Dunham-Jones is an architecture professor at Georgia Institute of Technology. She is a leader in finding ways to retrofit suburbia and make them both sustainable and livable Her recent TED presentation became an instant favorite.
- Jan Gehl: Gehl is a Danish architect and urban design consultant based in Copenhagen and whose career has focused on improving urban life by re-orienting city design towards the pedestrian and cyclist.
We used to say we plan at the scale of Robert Moses, but we judge ourselves by the standard of Jane Jacobs. That’s not really true anymore. We judge ourselves now by Jan Gehl’s standard. —New York City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden
- Roberta Brandes Gratz: Gratz is a New York City based journalist and urban critic. She is an advocate for urban husbandry, a more flexible approach to downtown rejuvenation that empowers local placemaking by promoting low-cost community-based initiatives over large-scale trickle-down renewal projects. Her ideas are outlined in The Living City, Cities Back from the Edge and the Battle for Gotham.
- Léon Krier: If Andres Duany is the father of new urbanism, Leon Krier is its godfather. An accomplished architect, Krier designed Poundbury ‘village’ in Dorchester, UK for the Prince of Wales and advised on the master plan of Seaside, FL. However, Krier is on this list because of his intellectual contributions; especially his explanation of the rational foundations of architecture and the city in his book, The Architecture of Community.
- Janette Sadie-Khan: The current Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, appointed by Michael Bloomberg in 2007. She has been a key player in efforts to transform New York into a green city under pliancy and is perhaps best known for closing of a section of Broadway to create a pedestrian-only zone around Times Square.
- Jaime Lerner: A renowned as an architect and urban planner who was mayor of Curitiba three times and Governor of Paraná twice. Lerner has spent his public and private career discovering unique solutions to vexing urban problems. He is best known for what could be called blitz urbanism: rapid urban improvements that bypass bureaucrats and doubters. His TED presentation is another of my favorites.
- Carol Coletta: The president and CEO of CEOs for Cities and host of one of my favorite public radio shows, Smart City. She brings together the worlds of urbanism, creative class and business to advance the next generation of great American cities.
- Larry Beasley: Was the co-director of Planning for the City of Vancouver, British Columbia. He is often credited for creating the Vancouver Model or ‘Vancouversim’; a participative and socially responsible approach to zoning, planning and design. He was named a Member of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest honor in recognition for playing “a leading role in transforming” Vancouver’s “downtown core into a vibrant, livable urban community.”
- James Howard Kunstler: An author and social critic best known for his books The Geography of Nowhere and The Long Emergency. He weekly KunstlerCast is another ‘must listen’ of mine. Kunstler is a staunch critic of “the tragic comedy of suburban sprawl” and is a proponent of the New Urbanism movement. He also comments often a post-oil America dependent on localized production and agriculture.