Sometimes, garbage language is a display of power. Sometimes it's a shibboleth, a form of in-group signaling. Sometimes it's a way of pre-empting and shutting down objections to something that, if described in plain terms, would be clearly objectionable.


If I had to take my best stab at parodying the currently in-vogue form of planner-ese, it'd go something like this:

The multimodal corridor plan will be developed through an inclusive, multi-stakeholder collaborative process which centers the values of equity and sustainability, resulting in an organic, community-led vision for a more vibrant and livable Main Street corridor.

Obviously that's turned up to 11. But you don't have to look hard to find examples of the overuse of vague aspirational buzzwords like "equitable," "sustainable," "inclusive" or "collaborative" divorced from any concrete way of measuring or defining them.

The function of this language is to check off a box on a checklist labeled "Best Intentions." Pretty much without exception, the planners I know and those I went to school with genuinely want to do their work in a way that helps redress past and present injustice (equitable). They genuinely want to work on projects that will retain their value over time and not saddle the next generation with liabilities (sustainable). They genuinely want to help create places that delight people (vibrant) and improve their day-to-day experiences (livable). None of the intentions are either phony or phoned-in.

The problem is that using the language is easy. Doing the work is hard.