Forget the latest planning buzzword and just plan


First it was “context sensitive solutions,” then “cool cities,” followed by “third places,” and most recently it has been the term “15 minute city.” All of these terms (and a myriad of others) are principally buzzwords meant to promote and identify a new and trendy planning concept…and to sell books, attract eyeballs to a website, or to garner more consulting fees. They are the latest and greatest trendy idea for a few years or perhaps for a decade and then they eventually fade into lexicon oblivion until the next planning buzzword is created. And by created, it is meant they are marketed, advertised, and branded like a consumer product.

Is that really what planning has become…brand identification and loyalty? As an undergraduate marketing major from college many years ago, I sure hope not.

Buzzword: “An important-sounding usually technical word or phrase often of little meaning used chiefly to impress laymen.” or “A voguish [temporary, trendy, or faddish] word or phrase.”

Sources: and American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition via

The problem is these buzzwords are fleeting, which means the solutions may be too. That doesn’t mean they are necessarily bad ideas in general. Instead, it means they may not be the best long term solution, nor be transferable to every situation/location. The only ones who can and should determine what’s best for their community are these who live and work there. To simply apply a planning buzzword idea/concept universally without regard to context is inappropriate.

It has been noted that buzzwords such as “15 minute city” will help the general populace to better understand the concepts of planning. To a certain extent this may be true, at least from a recognizability standpoint. But, promoting a “buzzword” planning concept can be a double-edged sword. One only need to read about the pushback from coming from conspiracy theorists on the term “15 minute city” to realize recognizability does not equate to understanding.

As professional planners, it is our job…rather it is our responsibility to apply our knowledge and expertise in a manner that is appropriate to the particular place and situation. It is not our job to apply a concept onto every community like it is some kind of universal panacea. Laws of physics apply to planning too – square planning pegs do not fit into round holes.

So, while planning buzzwords will probably continue to be with our profession through the ages, as individual professional planners lets instead concentrate on getting back to the basics and conduct our individual and collective efforts in a manner that best fits the situation.

This entry was posted in advertising, Advocacy, books, branding, business, cities, civics, civility, Communications, consumerism, culture, education, history, land use, literature, marketing, opinion, placemaking, planning, politics, product design, reading, Social media, third places, urban planning, writing, zoning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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