Friday, August 19, 2011

Urban Jargon Defined

I have always been astounded by the terms cooked-up in the urban development world. Many of these are imports from the Old World used by academics to show how traveled and cool they are. Others are just so vague that anyone from a five year old to the most senior city planner can hide behind the term and do what they want.

Let’s just look at my definitions for a few of these terms:

Greenfields: Any proposed project site that lies just across a city border. This land is so valuable that it has the ability to grow organic spinach in such quantities that, if lost to development, thousands of people will starve. It is best to not develop Greenfields, think of your conscience and those people in Africa.

Brownfields: Land that is so spoiled by man’s use that it will take billions of dollars to clean-up and develop. The site is valuable due to its location. So, it’s imperative that a federal grant be sought to make it happen. Many of these brownfields can be classed as Super Fund sites. (But just try to get some money from the fund to make your project happen.) While everyone feels good about cleaning up brownfields, there doesn’t seem to be any slack given to cut through the red tape. (These are also called greyfields by the really cool people.)

High Speed Rail: A huge fund of money from grants and bonds that is used to employ thousands of out-of- work planners, engineers, and politicians. At one time this term actually meant something: moving people very quickly from location to another. Now it’s define by its opposite result – High Speed R.A.I.L.(Real Asset and Income Loss)

EIR (Environmental Impact Report): 1) A useless document that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) that tells the community what it already knows and wants. 2) A document that can be interpreted any way the opponent or supporter wants. 3) A document that is used as a threat to prevent development. As in: “If you don’t agree with me I will force you to do a complete EIR for your six unit development!”

Traffic Levels, A, B, C, D, and F: Grades given to proposed automobile circulation system intersections based on flow of traffic. While traffic level ‘A’ means unimpeded flow, traffic level ‘F’ is gridlock. While we all want good traffic flows, if I were the city manager of a vibrant and profitable city, a level ‘F’ means people want to be in my town. I sure wouldn’t want my store in a level ‘A’ community.

Best Management Practices (Bmps): A cool term meaning you have developed an unenforceable program of conservation practices and measures that assures the community that you have hired experts to make everything okay when the project is finished. Typically these are too expensive to operate long term and are soon forgotten.

Charrette: A design and programmatic system developed by architects and planners where everyone is called into a large room and is given a powerpoint presentation by an expert who likes to hear himself speak. Most charrettes cost a lot of money, produce a booklet and a new powerpoint show, and are soon forgotten. See BMP.

High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV): A car with two or more people during rush hour; it's not an HOV when it's not rush hour, then it’s a car with two people in it. Me, I always thought that a bus was an HOV.

High-Occupancy Vehicle Lane: The lane on a freeway that is set aside for HOVs during rush hour, thus increasing traffic in the other non-HOV lanes. It is also a lane used by mothers with children going to daycare and students going to class. It is also known as IBTU (I’m better than you) lane when driven by one person in a cool approved hybrid car.

Infill Development: Development that is very expensive to buy and uses property left over by earlier developments that couldn’t make the project pencil.

Intermodel Surface Transportation: Buses, trains and cars living together illicitly.

Affordable Housing: Housing that uses money from new owners paying market rate prices in the same complex that subsidizes someone who shouldn’t be living in the complex in the first place and will soon be foreclosed.

Pedestrian Oriented Design: An urban complex with sidewalks.

Sustainable Design: Development that has no impact on the earth anywhere. In most cases the EIR is used to assure the public that the project is sustainable. That is, everything consumed by the project has been balanced with appreciable and over-the-top off-site improvements to rain forests, whales, dolphins, wolves, and will aid in ending global warming. The LEED certification system is used to confer sustainability sainthood on a project that spends millions of extra dollars in unnecessary improvements to prove that the project really doesn’t exist, that it has had no impact on anything anywhere, forever. See also HOV cars above since they must be sustainable.

Stay tuned . . . . .

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