This Right-of-Way Sure Could use a Mid-block Crossing: Or, How to Talk Like a Planner

Here’s something no one tells you in school. After years of being a Planner, all the technical words you use at the office will creep into your everyday vocabulary… and best of all, you won’t even notice you’re talking like some weird Planning robot (though your friends/spouse will surely remind you).

It makes sense. Planners write. We write a lot. And we generally write about cities, buildings, streets, transit, cyclists, and a bunch of other things that we see everywhere we go. It’s hard to turn this off.

And of course when we write, we want to sound smart. So instead of using everyday words for things, we use smart-sounding Planning lingo.

A few examples:

  • Right-of-Way – The space between two property lines, or what normal people would call a road or street.
  • Boulevard – The space between a building and the street, or a sidewalk in non-Planner speak.
  • Mixed-Use Building – A building with retail at grade, and residential above. In an urban context, this is usually just called a building.
  • Retail at grade – Stores.
  • Residential – Homes.
  • Open Space – A place where people hang out, like a park or plaza.
  • Pedestrians – Upright, two-legged creatures that can be found strolling on a boulevard. Might be referred to by most people as… People.
  • Mid Block Pedestrian Crossing – Painted lines within a right-of-way that link two boulevards. Sometimes referred to as a crosswalk.
  • Clear-Glazing – A transparent material comprised of heated sand that facilitates visual connections between two pedestrians. Commonly referred to as glass.
  • Natural Heritage – A large cluster of trees or other things that occur in nature, such as a stream. If you didn’t know better, you might call this trees… Or a stream.

Anyways, you get the idea. I can’t even define a term, without using some other crazy term. The problem is, as a Planner, we never get to separate from our subject. If I referred to a street as a right-of-way a thousand times today, it’s hard for me to step outside the office and accept that the right-of-way I occupy is nothing more than a simple street. I’m sure doctors have a pretty unique vocabulary too, but with the exception of popsicle sticks, they probably aren’t inundated with medical equipment between shifts.

Fortunately you won’t go full Planglish. You’ll be more like a French Canadian who slips the occasional French word into a conversation. You’re not likely to hear a Planner say, “just meet me on the adjacent side of the right-of-way, on the boulevard outside the mixed-use building.” However, don’t be surprised to hear yourself say something like, “I’m parked in front of the open space at City Hall,” or “I take a few different modes of transportation to get to work.”

This transformation will be swift, and you can’t stop it. Better people than us have tried. One day you’ll be fine, and the next day, you’ll notice your friends grinning when you talk. Within a year, you won’t even notice anymore (and your friends won’t even bother to question you).

At this point, you have two options:

  • Surround yourself with Planners. This shouldn’t be too hard. Just add all your colleagues to Facebook, and be sure to marry a Planner when the time comes to settle down. Everyone around you will speak the same, and no one will think it sounds strange.

Or, my personal recommendation…

  • Own it. Like an Eskimo needs a thousand words for snow*, Planner’s need words that show cities are more to us than just streets, sidewalks, people, and parks. So embrace the weird looks, and wear them like a badge of honour. Planglish is your first language now.

*This has not been fact checked. Quote with caution.

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