Urbanists of Twitter

Jonathan Berk
Jan 6 · 15 min read

Learn from some of these incredible city innovators as we head into the next decade and beyond.

The 2010s brought on the adoption of social media as not just part of but in many cases the driving force behind main stream public discourse. In an increasingly polarized nation with politics becoming a bloodsport, Twitter, for better or worse (typically worse…), is the venue for where many of those matches are fought. While the downsides of Twitter are well known and well publicized, the question always arises, how do you cut through the noise of social media to gain the valuable insight dispersed between political arguments.

Twitter, after all, does still have an extremely valuable place in the today’s society, particularly in todays growing new urbanist conversations. With an ever evolving world and a growing desire to live in walkable urban centers, it’s more important than ever to learn and share best practices with folks from around the globe and join a “global advocacy network” to fight for our shared ideals. Ideals that we know will make our cities and towns more vibrant, connected, healthy, affordable and equitable places to live, work and play.

The list below consists of just a sampling of some of the folks creating that future in our global cities and towns. They are experts in their respective fields, active advocates on Twitter sharing their insights and examples of their work. They wake every day with a “mission” to improve the way each and every person lives, works, and plays in and moves about their city and a drive to achieve it.

Rendering of Culdesac’s planned development in Tempe, Arizona

Housing

  1. Aaron Holm, Blokable: Construction costs across the globe are rising far faster than average salaries. In many regions this makes it difficult to afford to build new housing for much of the population. Enter Aaron and Blokable decreasing the time and costs associated with building and operating multi-family projects using their innovative modular design/ build process. @aahholm
  2. Faraji Whalen-Robinson, Southbanc: Based on Washington, DC, SouthBanc’s a social enterprise start-up seeking to solve the problem of wealth inequality through real estate and capital. They’re interested in learning more about underrepresented investors who believe in investing in opportunities that benefit low-income, or distressed, communities. @Farajidc
  3. Brad Hargreaves, Common: Brad is the Founder and CEO of Common, a leader in the co-living space now exploring innovative partnerships to build affordable housing, coliving product in partnership with the City of New York. In addition, Common has partnered with Tishman Speyer to launch Kin, to launch a coliving product designed for family living and community. @bhargreaves
  4. Christopher Coes, Smart Growth USA: Chris travels the country working with municipal governments on the local level to spur responsible and inclusive development in their cities. He also advocates on the federal level for funding and programs that will support the type of Smart Growth Development we need to see much more of in America. @christophercoes
  5. Ryan Johnson, Culdesac: Don’t let the name fool you, “Culdesac” is not what you’re thinking. The startup based in San Francisco is developing the largest development project in the nation built without the car in mind and it’s a true example of what’s possible when we stop building our cities for cars and start building/ designing them for people again. A concept I wrote about recently how the learnings from this project can benefit all of us. @ryanmjohnson
Boston’s Tontine Crescent (Photo Millenium Partners)

Placemaking

  1. Mike Lydon, Street Plans: Mike is an internationally recognized planner, writer, speaker, and advocate for livable cities. He’s written numerous books focused on Open Streets and Tactical Urbanism and travels the world helping cities and towns of any size adapt their cities to a people first design. @mikelydon
  2. Lucinda Hartley, Neighbourlytics and CoDesign Studio: Based in Melbourne, Australia, Lucinda is an urban designer and social entrepreneur who has spent the past decade pioneering innovative methods to improving cities, now being implemented around the world. @lucindahartley
  3. Ethan Kent, Project for Public Spaces: Ethan Kent works to support Placemaking organizations, projects, and leadership around the world to build a global placemaking movement to build systemic change towards place-led urbanization. During over 20 years at PPS, Ethan has traveled to more than 900 cities and 60 countries to advance the cause of Placemaking and public spaces. @ebkent
  4. Jennifer Vey, Brookings Metro, Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking: Jennifer Vey is a senior fellow and the Director of the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking at the Brookings Institution. Jennifer’s work primarily focuses on the connection between placemaking and inclusive economic development in the digital economy. @jvey1 @brookingsmetro
  5. Julian Agyeman Ph.D. FRSA FRGS, Tufts University: a Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, USA. He is the originator of the concept of ‘just sustainabilities,’ the intentional integration of social justice and sustainability, defined as ‘the need to ensure a better quality of life for all, now and into the future, in a just and equitable manner, whilst living within the limits of supporting ecosystems.’ @julianagyeman
  6. Jacob Wessell, City of Boston: Jacob serves as Boston’s “Public Realm Director” tasked with working across city agencies and community groups to implement people oriented interventions on Boston’s streets and sidewalks. Projects include the Tontine Crescent plaza (pictured above) numerous Open Streets events across the city and the Birch Street Plaza, a tactical plaza which will become permanent in 2020. @jkwessel
  7. Jay Pitter, University of Toronto: Jay Pitter, MES, is an award-nominated author and placemaker whose practice mitigates growing divides in urban centres. She spearheads institutional city-building projects, rooted in neighbourhood knowledge, focused on: cultural heritage interpretive planning, gender-based mapping, inclusive public engagement, safe streets and mobility, social planning, and healing fraught sites. @jay_pitter
  8. Kristen Jeffers, The Black Urbanist: Kristen E. Jeffers is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Black Urbanist multimedia platform, author of A Black Urbanist (second edition forthcoming), creator of the public speaking course Plan to Speak and 1/2 of the podcast Third Wave Urbanism, as well as a freelance writer, urban planner and advocate. @blackurbanist
  9. Jayne Engle, Mcconnell Foundation: Director of Cities for People and Future Cities at the Mcconnell Foundation. @jayneengle
Cover of Gabe Klein’s book, Start-Up City

Transportation

  1. Robin Chase, Zipcar, Veniam and Numu: Robin Chase is a transportation entrepreneur. She is co-founder and former CEO of Zipcar, the largest carsharing company in the world; as well as co-founder of Veniam, a network company that moves terabytes of data between vehicles and the cloud. Her recent book is Peers Inc: How People and Platforms are Inventing the Collaborative Economy and Reinventing Capitalism. Her current passion is working with cities to maximize the transformation possible with the introduction of self driving cars. @rmchase
  2. Janette Sadik-Khan, Bloomberg Associates: During her tenure, New York City added nearly 400 miles of bike lanes and the first parking-protected bike paths in North America. The department she led set in motion more than 60 plazas across the city, including the historic plazas that shut Broadway through Times Square, sparking economic recovery throughout the area. ​She currently advises mayors of cities around the world as a principal at Bloomberg Associates to help cities around the world improve the quality of life of their citizens. @jsadikkhan
  3. Chris Dempsey, T4Massachusetts: Chris is an advocate for better, smarter transportation policy in Massachusetts, a region recently noted to have THE worst congestion in America based on hours and money wasted sitting in traffic. He’s also credited with spearheading an effort to opposed the Olympics in Boston and travels the world speaking to cities speaking of the issues that can arise alongside hosting the Olympics and how you can “fix your regional issues” without the Olympics. @cdempc
  4. Jarred Johnson, Transit Matters: Jarred has been active for a number of years in transit and housing policy advocacy and he now leads efforts of Transit Matters, a Boston based transportation advocacy group advocating for faster, more frequent, and more reliable transit service in Greater Boston. @jarjoh
  5. Melissa and Chris Bruntlett, Modacity: Melissa and Chris work to educate people and cities about the inherent benefits of moving away from a car-centric transportation model, to a more inclusive one that is accessible to people of all ages, abilities, and economic means. Promoting the public health, environmental, and social benefits of walking, cycling, and public transit, our goal is to improve on the great strides already made in many cities, creating a more open and welcoming environment for residents and visitors alike. @modacitylife
  6. Gabe Klein, CityFi and Fontinalis: Gabe is the former Commissioner of the Chicago and Washington DC Departments of Transportation. In both cities he revamped technology platforms and government processes while focusing on putting people first vs. automobiles on city streets. This included launching two of the first bikeshare systems in the U.S. and building protected bike lanes and better pedestrian infrastructure for vulnerable citizens citywide, as well as facilitating private services like carshare and rideshare that could help each cities mobility goals. @gabe_klein
Danforth Street, Toronto, ON (880 Cities)

Urban Planning & Policy

  1. Jennifer Keesmaat, The Keesmaat Group (Former Chief planner, City of Toronto): Jennifer has long been an advocate for smart urban transit and housing while at the City of Toronto. Today, she travels the world speaking to and working with governments sharing the importance of solutions to a global housing affordability crisis, the need for mobility in our cities that forgoes dependence on fossil fuels, and smarter, quicker adaptations to a changing climate. @jen_keesmaat
  2. Jeff Speck, Speck & Associates: Jeff is one of the early founders of the “New Urbanism” movement and has written extensively about the importance of and methods for planning our cities to be more walkable, thriving, vibrant places. His book, Walkable City, was one of the first “New Urbanist” books I read back in the early part of this decade and one I credit with fostering my New Urbanist passion and driving my career in the direction it’s taken since. @jeffspeckaicp
  3. David Dixon, Stantec: David is Vice President, Planning and Urban Design Leader, Urban Places at Stantec. A sought-after expert in urban planning and design, David is well known for helping create new, mixed-use urban districts (in both cities and suburbs) and the planning, revitalization, and redevelopment of downtowns. @daviddixonurban
  4. Brent Toderian, Toderian UrbanWorks: The former chief planner for Vancouver, Canada, Brent now works with cities and projects all over the world, always championing better, smarter city-making, and FASTER solutions. He’s particularly known for finding clever, accessible ways to explain and discuss complex issues, and changing civic conversations. He writes about cities for Fast Company, and is frequently interviewed by global media on urban challenges. @brenttoderian
  5. Brooks Rainwater, National League of Cities: Brooks is a senior executive at NLC and Director of City Solutions. He’s also a contributor at City Lab authoring numerous pieces on the need to holistically change the way me manage and design our cities for a changing world. @brooksrainwater
  6. Gil Penalosa, 880 Cities: Gil travels the world advising with and spreading the gospel about the importance of building our cities for the 8-year old and the 80 year old. His talks are electric and speak to the importance of building housing, public space and transportation systems to accommodate people and be conducive to free movement, building connections and sharing experiences in the public realm. @Penalosa_G
  7. Shelley Poticha, NRDC: Shelley leads NRDC’s Healthy People & Thriving Communities program, which advances strategies that create strong, just, and resilient communities. She works with local, national, and global leaders to make cities part of the answer to climate change while ensuring that all people can lead healthy, thriving lives. @shelleypoticha
  8. Bruce Katz, Drexel University Nowak Metro Finance Lab: Bruce advises federal, state, and local leaders on shifting demographic and market trends as well as on policies that are critical to metropolitan prosperity (e.g., innovation, human capital, infrastructure, housing) and new forms of metropolitan governance. His book, The New Localism, looks at how cities are assuming an even greater role in building prosperity in an age of increasing “populism.” @bruce_katz
  9. Pascal Smet, City of Brussels: Pascal is Brussels State Secretary for Urbanism. He has a clear vision on city planning and is very ambitious to continue shaping an ambitious Brussels on a human scale and make it a human-centric city. @SmetPascal
  10. Lior Steinberg, Humankind: Lior Steinberg is an urban planner based in Rotterdam and Tel-Aviv and co-founder of Humankind, a multidisciplinary collective accelerating the transition towards urban happiness for all. He helps cities to look beyond functionality and to plan urban spaces that make people smile. Being a Jane Jacobs’ enthusiast and a fan of great public spaces, he is keen on making cities better with an emphasis on local, innovative interventions and on including residents in urban planning. @liorsteinberg
  11. Yonah Freemark: Yonah is currently a doctoral candidate in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He studies how local governments shape planning outcomes in the context of political conflict and multi-level governance systems. He engages this subject from the perspectives of transportation projects, urban design, land-use policy, and affordable housing development in the United States and Europe. @yfreemark

Real Estate and #PropTech

  1. Julien Smith, Breather: Breather revolutionized the sharing economy when it first launched out of Montreal many years ago finding value in the excess capacities in our built environment (and conveniently enough the title of this blog :)). Today, Julien also speaks about the importance of adopting change in your life and how to think outside the box to create that change. Let’s be honest, it’s something we all need to do more of to see the change we desire in our cities and towns! @julien
  2. Dror Poleg, Author of Rethinking Real Estate: Dror is a former real estate and technology executive who now dedicates his time to researching the impact of technology on urban life and the way physical assets are designed, used, and valued. @drorpoleg
  3. Ryan Simonetti, Convene: Ryan is co-founder of Convene, a flexible work, event and meeting space, and focuses on human first design and space utilization and how it will change the way we live, work and meet in our cities. @rwsimonetti
  4. Clara Brenner, Urban Innovation Fund: Clara is co-founder and Managing Partner of the Urban Innovation Fund, a venture capital firm that invests in the future of cities. The fund provides seed capital and regulatory support to entrepreneurs solving our toughest urban challenges — helping them grow into tomorrow’s most valued companies. Previously, she co-founded Tumml, a startup hub for urban tech. The organization has provided 38 startups with seed funding and mentorship, and hosts thought leadership events around urban innovation. @clara_brenner
  5. Matt Alexander, Neighborhood Goods: Matt is a cofounder of Neighborhood Goods, a new type of department store, featuring an ever-changing landscape of the world’s most exciting brands, products, and concepts. More than that, Neighborhood Goods is a community, bringing thoughtful people together to shop, eat, and learn in our vibrant physical spaces, through our immersive editorial content, and more.@mattalexand
  6. Bianca Wylie, Centre for International Governance Innovation: Bianca is an open government advocate with a dual background in technology and public engagement. She is the co-founder of Tech Reset Canada and is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation. @biancawylie
  7. Zachary Aarons, MetaProp: Zach Aarons has been working at the intersection of real estate and venture capital for the past decade. Zach is the most active early-stage PropTech investor in the United States, having funded over 60 startups in the space as an individual as well as 40 startups (and counting) through MetaProp NYC’s venture capital funds. @ZacharyAarons , @metapropnyc

Urbanist Journalists

  1. Alissa Walker, Curbed: Alissa has been leading the conversation in print around some of the major issues facing our cities today through her writing and editorial work at Curbed. She authors the column Word on the Street, highlighting the pioneering transit, clever civic design, and game-changing policy affecting our cities. @awalkerinLA
  2. Robert Steuteville, Public Square by Congress for New Urbanism: Robert is founder and executive director of Better Cities & Towns, a 501c3 nonprofit that seeks to educate and raise awareness for more sustainable and livable communities. He also serves as editor of Public Square, a publication from the Congress for New Urbanism. @cnupublicsquare
  3. Laura Bliss, CityLab: Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation. @mslaurabliss
  4. Eric Jaffe, Sidewalk Labs: Sidewalk Labs is reimagining cities to improve quality of life by combining people-centered urban design with cutting-edge technology, we can achieve new standards of sustainability, affordability, mobility, and economic opportunity. @e_jaffe
  5. Jared Brey, NextCity: Jared Brey is Next City’s housing correspondent, based in Philadelphia. He is a former staff writer at Philadelphia magazine and PlanPhilly, and his work has appeared in Columbia Journalism Review, Landscape Architecture Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Philadelphia Weekly, and other publications. @jaredbrey
  6. Feargus O’Sullivan, CityLab: Acontributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications. @FeargusOSull

Elected Officials

  1. London Breed, Mayor of San Francisco: Mayor Breed is entering her first full term in office in the City of San Francisco. She’s a vocal advocate for creating an affordable, equitable city for all and ending the city’s ever growing housing affordability and homelessness crises. @londonBreed
  2. Senator Scott Weiner, California State Senate: Senator Weiner has been pushing for a change to California’s housing laws (similar to changes proposed in other states) that would require zoning changes to allow, as of right, increased density around transit hubs in an effort to increase supply side to decrease rapidly rising housing costs. His bill faltered in 2019 but look for it to be revived in 2020 and serve as a model for other states looking to increase TOD housing supply. Scott Wiener
  3. Joe Curtatone, Mayor of Somerville, MA: There’s a saying you’ll here a lot around the country, “we want to be the next Somerville!” Well, Joe is the Mayor of THE Somerville and has been leading his City through somer tremendous changes. Major new developments in Assembly Square and Union Square are in progress and the Green Line Extension is changing the way the City looks at it’s future. A new form based code was recently adopted allowing TOD smart growth around train stations as of right and setting parking MAXIMUMS around the City. @joecurtatone
  4. Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, France: The Paris Mayor has been a leading voice in the movement to take a hard look at the way we move about and live in our cities. Her push to pedestrianize some of Paris most beautiful streetscapes have created incredible new pedestrian plazas and changed the way Parisians think about their relationship with the car. @Anne_Hidalgo
  5. Kim Driscoll, Mayor of Salem, MA: Mayor since 2006, she’s responsible for several economic initiatives that have transformed Salem into a popular Greater Boston destination. Driscoll has been a strong advocate for TDriscoll is also spearheading innonorth, a free membership-based program offering a unique blend of events, services, and perks with the singular goal of building and fostering an active innovation hub north of Boston. @MayorDriscoll

Urbanist Funders/ Investors

  1. Carol Coletta, Kresge Foundation: A senior fellow with The Kresge Foundation’s American Cities Practice, Coletta is leading a proposed $40 million collaboration of foundations, nonprofits, and governments to demonstrate the benefits of a civic commons. Former vice president of community and national Initiatives for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and president of ArtPlace. @ccoletta
  2. Jim Canales & Barr Foundation: Jim is the President and Trustee at Barr Foundation in Boston. Barr invests in human, natural, and creative potential, serving as thoughtful stewards and catalysts. They focused extensively on climate change preparedness, social equity and education, the arts and placemaking as drivers of community and economic revitalization activities. @jcanales @barrfdn
  3. Steve Case, JD Vance and Rise of the Rest, Revolution: Revolution’s “Rise of the Rest” fund has sought out to shift the concentrations of VC dollars away from the coastal hubs and expose new, fresh ideas and entrepreneuers in parts of the country that have a harder time finding investment for their ideas. ROTR and Steve’s work is more important now than ever. The concentration of capital in America is at the worst levels it’s ever been and an opportunity exists to share the wealth and use small, geographically scattered investments to spur new innovation hubs in cities and towns across America. @riseofrest, @jdvance1 ,@stevecase
  4. Lilian Coral, Knight Foundation: Lilian manages the national portfolio and focuses on the development of the foundation’s Smart Cities strategy. She came to Knight from the City of Los Angeles, where she served as chief data officer for Mayor Eric Garcetti. In this role, she led the mayor’s directive on Open Data beyond the lens of transparency and towards his vision of a data-driven Los Angeles through the management of the City’s Open Data program, the expansion of the use of data science and analytics, and the development of user-centered digital services. @lcoral
  5. Karen Abrams, Heinz Endowments: Karen serves as a program officer for equitable development, with a focus of infusing equity into the foundation’s redevelopment funding initiatives in the Pittsburgh region. Her work involves helping the Endowments develop and implement a range of grantmaking that supports sustainable investments in neighborhood-level projects as well as city and region-wide initiatives. @KVAbrams

Give them a follow and lets all collectively engage in building healthy, vibrant, equitable, connected cities and towns in 2020 and beyond!

*This is intended to be an iterative list. If you know of someone I missed. I meant no offense! These are the folks I’ve followed and learned immensely from over the past few years. It’s no way intended to be an exhaustive list.*

Happy and healthy new year!

Opportunity in "Excess Capacity"

Exploring how our cities and towns both take advantage of and miss ample opportunities in our "excess capacities."

Jonathan Berk

Written by

Working at intersection of real estate, community and tech to realize a city's full potential.

Opportunity in "Excess Capacity"

Exploring how our cities and towns both take advantage of and miss ample opportunities in our "excess capacities."

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