Planetizen did an online survey on the most influential urbanists, and a first round, with a list of over 200, has now been narrowed to 100. For some reason, I am #57. It means a lot to me that there’s this much interest in transit networks. For most of my career, this has felt like lonely work, swimming upstream against a torrent of apathy.
But my gratitude wouldn’t be credible if I didn’t have a few questions.
The only person whose presence is really objectionable is surely Thomas Jefferson (#51). He is on the list mainly for his contributions to rural architecture, notably his estate at Monticello, as though all architecture is automatically urbanism. Meanwhile, he is famous for writing things like this:
I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries as long as they are chiefly agricultural; and this will be as long as there shall be vacant lands in any part of America. When they get plied upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe.
Jefferson was a good guy in many ways, but if you want to understand why the US constitutional structure is so biased against urban interests — most obviously in the construction of the Senate — you must consider Jefferson’s role in fostering this attitude.
Jefferson is the only person on this list that I’d question — and fortunately, I’m not too worried about offending him. Which raises a more amusing point.
Though I’m ranked as more influential than Hippodamus of Miletus (498-408 BCE), I’m obviously infinitely less influential than he was, if only because he got a 25-century head start. When I did this survey myself, I voted mainly for dead people, with a preference for long-dead people, because we have some perspective on how influential they actually were. Separate polls for different historical eras, and one for living people only, would have been a little more credible maybe. (And of course, the list makes it sound like urbanist history happened only in Europe and its colonies.)
Enough nitpicking. I’m not the 57th most influential urbanist in human history — maybe not even the 5700th — but it’s still a huge honor to be the 57th most popular among the readers of Planetizen. I’ve done what I could to change a conversation about transit that is very set in its ways, and I’m grateful to everyone who thought my work was worthwhile.
As for whether I was really influential, check back in the 47th century.