Why We Need A ‘Neil deGrasse Tyson’ of Urban Planning

Ship of the Imagination for Cities


Have you been watching Cosmos lately?

Not only is it supremely fascinating, informative, and eye-gasmic, it has taken a mystifying subject, science, and made it cool…eer cooler!

Each week we travel with Neil deGrasse Tyson on the ‘Ship of the Imagination’ through the history of science, the discovery, the persecution, the evolution of eyes, the atomic properties of atoms, the cosmic calendar.

Each week we warm up to challenging scientific truths.

Neil’s Urban Planning Counterpart

How many well known Urban Planners can you name off the top of your head?

I’m an Urban Planner, and I can’t even name five. Not because I don’t know any, because urban planning is about as sexy as fountain maintenance — no offense to fountain maintenance workers.

Of course, there are iconic planners that we all know. But they’re all dead, well, they live in our hearts, but they’re not contributing to making urban planning cool at the moment.

And today’s planners? We aren’t really helping ourselves out when it comes to action, excitement, adventure, danger, imagination or creativity. We’re boring people. Boring!

We live in a world where mainstream urban planning is Miley Cyrus on a wrecking ball and Kanye West dropping in on Harvard Graduate School of Design. Where movie star celebrities or musicians have a bigger impact on cities then people who study cities for a living. I’m not dissing on celebrities. I’m saying that urban planning needs celebrities!

Going Mainstream

Urban Planners design cities for a living. We define how land is used. We take massive systems of people and create ways for them to use the city including everything from transportation, to living, to entertainment, to public spaces, to climate change, to food systems and everything that makes cities run. This shit is cool!

I was watching Amanda Burden’s TED Talk about How public spaces make cities — just in case you don’t know Amanda, she’s the planner who spent the better part of a decade securing up all the rights to the elevated rail-road that would become the High Line in New York. I know, game-changing shit!— it occurred to me, this lady has spent 25-years of her life changing New York City on the Planning Commission and as the Director of the Department of City Planning and most people will only get to know her awesomeness through a TED talk.

I know, I know, we do it ‘cause we love it.

But I’m thinking, what if urban planners — who fucking design cities — got the same acknowledgement as Cyrus or West, for different reasons, of course?

What if we got endorsement deals from Energizer to build city infrastructure or sponsorships from Bern and Linus to ride their bikes everywhere?

Urban planners are hidden away. We stay locked up behind cubicles talking about GIS (Geographical Information Systems), mapping shit, and making sure that the citizens are complying with invisible codes and ordinances.

Now for some that may be fun. Me, I’m not buying it.

The way I look at it, we have entire cities to play in — they are our playgrounds. They are full of wonder and just as epic as the cosmos.

We need to be rocking it out, exploring and enjoying life, yet we walk around in suits and ties, pride ourselves on being technical experts, and fold our arms whenever someone proposes changing a road or building housing — I’m simplifying of course. The point is we’re curmudgeons who default to ‘no’ and ‘how much is that going to cost?’ instead of ‘it’s possible’ and ‘let’s see where this can go?’

Stop Being Boring!

Planners. Help me and the rest of the urban planning community to stop being boring!

Lose the suits and ties and jargony language. You can still write your books, go on Charlie Rose, and hold esoteric conferences. But also go on Jimmy Fallon, take selfies with Obama, have someone make a few memes or gifs of you, co-host a podcast with Joe Rogan, and if you can get a muppet made of you…eff, I’ll wear a t-shirt with your face on it.

Now, back to my Neil deGrasse Tyson Memes!


Patrick is a freelancer re-defining what it means to be an Urbanist in the Information Age. Check out his Twitter for daily insights and his Tumblr for a daily look into what he’s working on.

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