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

Posted on Posted in Neighborhoods, Public Space

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.

3 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.

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