Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

Anna Ponting: Top Urban Thinkers

As my final quarter at Stanford begins, I’ve found myself reflecting–in a much more personal way than ever before–on the tangible impacts that urbanists have had. This month marks the two year anniversary of Urbanter, and while it’s had it’s periods of explosive writing and other prolonged dry spells, it’s been nice to look through our archives and see how my own thinking has changed. Two years ago, I hardly would have imagined what my final year as an Urban Studies major at Stanford would have been like. I simply had no idea what opportunities and challenges I would come across. And now those seniors, so old and experienced in my sophomore-year eyes, are humanized. 

Now that senior capstone projects are completed, honors theses are well underway (so close!), and we’ve marked our calendars for the senior retreat, our futures seem much more tangible. And after having been in at least one class with every Urban Studies major of the Class of 2013, I can say that we have some top urban thinkers on our hands.


In 2009, Planetizen released their list of Top 100 Urban Thinkers based on a public poll. While only 9 of the top 100 are female, Jane Jacobs snagged the top spot. It’s a fascinating list, with superstar names like Daniel Burnham, Lewis Mumford, Richard Florida, Le Corbusier, and Robert Moses (in 23rd place–history seems to have treated Jacobs better) studding the list. The Urban Studies core classes have guaranteed that I recognize at least two thirds of these urban thinkers, and I can’t help but think that some of our own graduates have the potential to knock out a couple of these big names. 

Now that Urbanter has come out of hibernation, we’re excited to get back into the swing of writing and sharing our favorite urban content. On that note, it’s impossible not to note yesterday’s tragedy at the Boston Marathon. The image of the explosions sickens me, and my thoughts go out to all those affected. Nicholas Thompson has written a great piece for the New Yorker, The Meaning of the Boston Marathon, that is absolutely worth a read. As someone training for a much less important marathon, Thompson’s words hit home:

There’s something particularly devastating about an attack on a marathon. It’s an epic event in which men and women appear almost superhuman.

And another passage, this time from Dan Chiasson’s A Poem for Boston (also New Yorker):

Everyone is defying, in one way or another, mortality, the actual finish line whose figurative embodiment they plan to cross. Of course, the legend is that the first marathoner died from exhaustion after he’d run from the town of Marathon to Athens, an ancient fact that seemed nearly comic until yesterday changed it permanently.

Whether it was terrorism, mental illness or some sick attempt to break the resilience of one of the country’s greatest cities and events, the bombings have made me even more hyper-aware of the “bubble” I will soon be leaving. So, as students that deeply care about the state of our cities and their inhabitants, Urbanter is ready to explore the highs and lows of urban life. Here’s to a great spring, and to a generation of top urban thinkers within our midst!



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