A couple of weeks ago, while I was listening to yet another SB 375 panel at the California state planning conference, a text message popped up congratulating me for being named the 99th top urban thinker in a recent Planetizen poll.
Flattered – and, frankly, a little weary of regional emissions reduction target methodologies – I immediately checked it out. And there I was. Honored to be right behind John Norquist, a truly great mayor of Milwaukee. Both frightened and frustrated to be right ahead of Henry Ford. Love him or hate him, I think it's fair to say that Henry Ford has had a much greater impact on American cities than me or practically anybody else, for that matter.
When I looked at the rest of the list, I immediately realized that I should have gone hardcore in lobbying all my friends to vote for me – preferably on Facebook. How else can you explain Kaid Benfield (who is a pretty good urban thinker, frankly) polling so far ahead of Walt Disney? Or James Rojas (admittedly, one of my favorite people) edging out Henry George? So, just for the record, I came in 99th, but it's an honest 99th. I may be a politician, but nobody stuffed the ballot for me on this one.
Anyway, you can probably argue over who should be 40th versus 60th versus 80th. But it's tough to argue with the Top 10: Jane Jacobs, Andres Duany, Christopher Alexander, Frederick Law Olmsted, Kevin Lynch, Daniel Burnham, Lewis Mumford, Leon Krier (Duany's main influence), William H. Whyte, and Jan Gehl, the pedestrian-oriented architect and author from Copenhagen. Seven trained designers, including several (Alexander, Lynch and Gehl) who are probably more important for what they wrote than what they designed. And three self-trained planning writers (Jacobs, Mumford, Whyte) whom no planning writer – take my word for it – would deny a spot in the Big 3.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there are, in fact, a number of things that both disturb and reassure me about this list.
Disturbing: Andres Duany No. 2, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk No. 24. OK, Liz is not as good an after-dinner speaker as her husband, but she's at least as good an urban thinker. Sexism?
Ressassuring: Former professors of mine on the list: Two (Don Shoup, a well-deserved No. 15 and John Friedman No. 74); former students of mine on the list: Zip. At least so far.
Disturbing: Where's Reyner Banham?
Reassuring: Where's Joel Kotkin?
Disturbing: Co-authors of mine who are far, far higher than me on the list: One (Peter Calthorpe, No. 19).
Reassuring: Contemporary mayors on the list: At least two (Norquist and Jaime Lerner, No. 20).
I'll tell you one thing for sure: Next time I'm not sitting it out. Here's a fair warning to all my former co-workers, students, and clients, and all CP&DR subscribers: Next time I'm lobbying.
Watch out, Jane Jacobs!
– Bill Fulton