Towards a Post-Meaning Vocabulary in Urbanism

Hi, I’m Nick Magrino, you may remember me from such self-help posts as “Chart of the Day: Where Should I Sit on the Bus?” and “Transportation Emojis: An Objective Analysis.”

In our complex modern world, everyone gets to have an opinion, but tragically, many people at this very moment do not have their shirts correctly buttoned and/or do not have the ability to put together original and/or compelling arguments. Are you desperately trying to justify having spent tens of thousands of dollars on a higher education of dubious quality and purpose? Trying to snag a consulting contract with an imagination-less company or government? Want to impress that special someone (Nerds Now Hot, Study Finds) with words haphazardly plucked from a thesaurus in a way that’s like 80% correct but still pretty jarring to read or hear out loud? The English language offers a variety of options to filibuster your friends with your cromulent opinions, thus moving the dial on achieving your goals and definitely impressing your parents.

Ye be warned, for this list is not complete and in fact merely scratches the surface of this pervasive and plethora problem. Likewise, you may encounter perfectly acceptable uses of any of the below words and concepts. It is up to you to divine the correct usage in the myriad of opportune ways.

These exist & were the basis of a happy hour w/ prizes

These exist & were the basis of a happy hour w/ prizes

Buzzword (n.) – Do you have strong opinions about language? Do you want to police other peoples’ language & show off how fancy you are? Does it take three months off your life to hear someone misuse the word “snark” as “thing that I do not like on the Internet?” What you can do, especially if you’re losing an argument, is accuse someone of using buzzwords. Pick one thing you don’t like out of a paragraph of well-constructed thoughts and harp on that. This will not make you look like a prick.

See also: Opinions about Comic Sans

Character (n.) – As in neighborhood character, which you can change by doing bad things like, for example, anything. What is neighborhood character? Who knows! What neighborhood has stayed the same for more than a couple decades? Any? Didn’t think so! It’s not supposed to mean anything, really, at least not anything measurable. It’s a gut feeling; an abstract concept like love or happiness, or schadenfreude. Using neighborhood character as the foundation of your argument comes from the same place, emotionally, as an actual transient yelling “squatter’s rights!” in your living room.

See also: Redlining

Density (n.) – You know, a towering six story skyscraper completely out-of-scale with the neighborhood that will definitively Manhattanize your community that’s overwhelmingly made up of single family houses.

See also: Kowloon walled city

Equity (n.) – The Midwest: Mostly great! I like the snow and am also generally averse to direct conflict–why do you think I am writing this blog ! In an overwhelmingly liberal but glaringly segregated city like ours, a great way to win an argument is to vaguely accuse someone of being racist for disagreeing with you. Are you still defending a billion(s?) dollar decades-long transit planning debacle that has damaged relations between local and regional government, features a rail tunnel under a bike trail, and will certainly be used for decades as a case study of how not to plan a transit corridor? Hey! Turns out that tens of people from North Minneapolis will use it to reverse commute! Ergo, if you do not support the project, you do not support equity. You didn’t buy up land around Royalston? Sucker!

See also: Verbal flashbang

Hub (n.) – Two of anything. Two bike shops? A cycling retail hub. Two design firms? A creative hub. Two food trucks? A hub of gastro-enthusiasmenteritis. Great intersection.

See also: Plural

Local (adj.) – As in local business. Local businesses are great, and an essential part of conversation, but not actual shopping trips. One thing that you can do is talk a lot about local businesses and demand that new buildings include ground floor retail spaces, but then do all your shopping at Target and Cub and on Amazon. This is great & helps further your overall goals. Small Business Saturday makes a difference.

See also: Technically, Target, Best Buy, and US Bank, but you know what I mean

NIMBY (n. and adj. and maybe v.) – “This stands for Not In My Backyard,” explained the man who just found out about our historical streetcar system. NIMBY’s great, it’s like waving a flag that says “I know what NIMBY stands for” with all the accompanying  😉 😉 😉  that goes along with in-group language. It’s a great way to not have to justify your own viewpoint–just call your opponent a NIMBY instead of actually making an effort to change their mind.

See also: The coolest seventh grader in the whole county

Stakeholder (n.) – In this case, we’re not referring to the early phase of vampire hunting, but rather to the six people who show up to any given public meeting and then also $campaign contributor$. Invariably, any given community meeting will have this approximate split:

  • 49.5% – Bored retirees (serious ed. note: not to be maligned for being bored retirees btw, at least they care)
  • 49.5% – People who are at this specific public meeting in this specific community center saying a specific three sentences so that they can run for their neighborhood board next year so they can run for City Council in four years so they can run for mayor in eight years so they can run for governor in four years so they can run for president in four years. These people are never extremely transparent.
  • 1% – Eric Roper blogging

Did you engage the stakeholders? I hope you engaged them good. Connecting with & engaging the stakeholders is an essential part of many paragraphs.

See also: I Am Legend (1954 novel)

Sustainable (adj.) – Nothing we do is sustainable! The jig may well be up around here. I don’t know about you, but twice this year I’ve come home super loaded and seriously considered joining the Air Force the next day so as to become an astronaut and get out of Dodge with my cat while I still can. Went to the website and everything. Anyway, because your reusable bags are sustainable, we can ignore the potentially human-civilization-ending extent to which the concept of sustainability has lost meaning and continue to drive a Prius four blocks to buy organic oranges flown to Minneapolis from South America. Do those wind turbines out near Arbor Lakes offset the carbon footprint of the extra letters in the “Shoppes” of Arbor Lakes?

See also: The second curb cut of Wedge Co-op parking lot

Tactical (adj.) – Have you ever been tactical? Have you ever been tactically urban? If you’ve never done tactical urbanism, let us know by using the phrase “tactical urbanism.”

See also: Draft dodgers

Vibrant (adj.) – Vibrant, at this point, is a little bit like the font Comic Sans. For the most part, people don’t get agitated about the actual use of Comic Sans, people are surprised by people who don’t know that you shouldn’t use Comic Sans. Vibrant is like that! A great way to show that you haven’t gotten the memo. I feel bad for vibrant; vibrant did no wrong, the wrong was done to vibrant. Stand strong, people who still use vibrant, it doesn’t stop your readers cold. I, for one, am excited to find out what the next vibrant will be.

See also: Purgatory

Anything with a hyphen and then a word like “oriented” or “centered” – Great! Your plan is results-driven? Cool! What the hell does that mean? It means nothing. Everything is results-driven. If you feel the need to point out that something is community-based, it’s either because you’re hiding that it wasn’t, or you’re just saying words to say words. Nevertheless, it’s great filler & very attractive to purpose-driven people.

See also: Word vomit

A lot of stuff with “plan” in it, e.g. “small area plan,” or like a zoning map or something – The plan! What does the plan say?! The plan says FOUR STORIES. HOW CAN YOU BUILD A FIVE STORY BUILDING HERE. THE PLAN SAYS THAT YOU CAN’T DO THAT WHY DID I GO TO THOSE MEETINGS IF YOU’RE I CAN’T THE PLAN SAYS BUT YOU THIS IS–cuts to static zzzzzzz transmission lost

See also: Busywork

Language, one of the pillars of human civilization, feels important. Is it? What are some other words that sound like nails on a blackboard? Or does none of this matter? Does anything matter? Is anything real?

Nick Magrino

About Nick Magrino

Nick Magrino grew up all over the place but has lived in the Loring Park neighborhood of Minneapolis longer than anywhere else. He has a new cat, Sweater, and does not use hashtags at @nickmagrino. He is probably on a bus right now.