'Define Each and Every Acronym'

A participant in some of Seattle's most consequential planning processes puts out a call for a more inclusive use of language.

2 minute read

January 14, 2017, 11:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

City Hall

Wasu Watcharadachaphong / Shutterstock

There's been a lot of talk about the effects of planning jargon already this year, but Laura Bernstein provides a new angle on the subject for The Urbanist. Bernstein is a former member of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) focus group member and former representative at the Northeast District Council, where there was constant exposure to acronyms that leave "newcomers feeling left out and overwhelmed." Bernstein wonders by urbanists seem so willing to use abbreviations like FAR, TOD, MHA, ROW, and MIZ. She asks the pointed questions: "Are they showing off? Are they in a hurry to try to convince you of something? Is it an essential part of every nerd subculture?"

Bernstein writes at greater length about the negative consequences of the esoteric language of urbanists:

I have observed people intimidated to speak up because of the jargon. It is imperative that the city fund “Land Use 101” education like the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association. I suspect that much of the mistrust of city officials is a lack of shared language to discuss land use decisions. When planning professionals–often nervously and defensively standing in front of a concerned crowd–use a secret code, it hurts the transparency of the process. We need more plain human everyday speech to demystify land use terms. 

The article concludes with definitions of the acronyms above, including a special focus on PLUZ, which stands for the city of Seattle’s Planning, Land Use, and Zoning Committee.

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