Why Words Matter: This isn’t a Plaza, it’s a Strip Mall

Why Words Matter: This isn’t a Plaza, it’s a Strip Mall

This is why words matter. When you call a strip mall a plaza, the meaning of the word plaza is twisted and becomes meaningless. A strip mall is “a long usually one-story building or group of buildings housing several adjacent retail stores or service establishments” which is what we find in the not so lovely Shadyside “Plaza”.

If this location were actually a plaza we might find “a public square in a city or town” or “an open area usually located near urban buildings and often featuring walkways, trees and shrubs, places to sit, and sometimes shops”

Instead, we see this:




A plaza is a gathering space, a beautiful respite in a city, a place where people take pictures, meet friends, a place to show off to out of town visitors.

A strip mall is none of these things. Rather, it is a waste of precious urban land, a careless, unplanned, ugly, quick construction; a symbol that no one cares what it looks like, what it feels like, or the experience that people have when going to or by it.

Strip malls have no place in dense urban centers and certainly do not deserve the honor of the title plaza. They are usually inhabited by bland, faceless corporations with zero ties to the community that have no investment in making their location a better place to live.

This is just one small example of the importance of language and how inaccurately describing something limits our ability to correctly interpret.
Some other examples:

The difference between car accident and car crash. Car “accident” automatically removes any responsibility and accountability from a driver.

Global warming vs. climate change. Global warming sounds GREAT, doesn’t it? Everyone likes being warm and doesn’t that mean reduced heating bills? When incorrect terminology becomes popularized, it changes the scope of the debate.

Alternative transportation. The word “alternative” automatically isolates and alienates anyone who chooses to use a method of transport beyond a car.


4 thoughts on “Why Words Matter: This isn’t a Plaza, it’s a Strip Mall

  1. I think the reason the term “global warming” was replaced with “climate change” is actually because the latter term is more all-inclusive of the multiple effects of “greenhouse gases” on the climate beyond just the warming of the planet. I could be wrong but I don’t think the term “global warming” was ever meant to be some sort of “greenwashing” expression, rather it was an overly simplistic term for a very complex phenomena that we are still trying to comprehend. Hence it was replaced with the term “climate change.”

  2. I have this same reaction to the strip mall that Trader Joes is in: “The Village of the East Side” I can’t imagine a space further from the meaning of village…

    1. That’s the last time my kids are playing in the Parkway! Well, I still have one left.

      My personal favorite is Ohio River Blvd. It’s just like our very own Champs-Élysées.

      Banksville road is also very charming. If you don’t breath too much.

  3. Reblogged this on Lolly Walsh and commented:

    The “Crash Not Accident” Pledge reminded me of this post I wrote in 2010. Beyond misusing the word “Plaza,” I pointed out that “The difference between car accident and car crash. Car “accident” automatically removes any responsibility and accountability from a driver.”

    But it really isn’t JUST the driver that bears responsibility, we live in a society that is built on unsafe transportation that is practically begging for crashes to happen. According to the US Census “About 86 percent of U.S. workers commuted by automobile in 2013, down from about 88 percent in 2000.”

    That’s not down enough!
    We need to build the infrastructure that supports people making choices that are safer and healthier for individuals and the environment. We need to fund public transportation and make it accessible and attractive enough so that it makes sense for people to leave their cars. We need to continue building streets and roads that beckon bicyclists of all ages and levels of confidence.

    And while we work on these things we need to use accurate language when describing the failures of these modes. Pledge to say “crash not accident.”

    From the Crash Not Accident pledge:

    “Before the labor movement, factory owners would say “it was an accident” when American workers were injured in unsafe conditions.

    Before the movement to combat drunk driving, intoxicated drivers would say “it was an accident” when they crashed their cars.

    Planes don’t have accidents. They crash. Cranes don’t have accidents. They collapse. And as a society, we expect answers and solutions.

    Traffic crashes are fixable problems, caused by dangerous streets and unsafe drivers. They are not accidents. Let’s stop using the word “accident” today.”

    Take the pledge at http://crashnotaccident.com/

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