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I am a senior staff writer at Motherboard, VICE’s tech and science website. I cover cities, transportation, infrastructure, and climate. I spend almost no time on Twitter, so this is the best way to keep up with my work and other blog-like thoughts from time to time, including but not limited to cats, bikes, trains, parks, films, books, and soccer.

Why “Urbababble?”

Urbababble is the title of a 1980 satirical pamphlet published by Robert Fichter about “the language of professional urbanism.” In the introduction, Fichter wrote:

We had just come from a meeting where one official had spoken entirely in jargon. Programs were "on line" or "on stream."Agencies were "gearing up" to do this or that. Our "troops" were ready to "hit the ground running" in order to "stay out ahead of the wave." Everybody uses jargon now and then, but this individual had so completely replaced ordinary speech with it that we were all for the moment sensitized to buzzwords.

He explained that sometimes difficult ideas were discussed only through this kind of babble to avoid the implications of more specific language:

What the approach promises is a way into an obscure area of asumptions and values which are rarely discussed and in some cases virtually undiscussable because of the taboos surrounding them. This is especially so in regard to race and class, awkward considerations Urbababble handles by throwing over them a large dust sheet marked “low/mod households.”

I was struck by how this extremely obscure pamphlet from several generations prior perfectly captures many of the difficulties surrounding urbanism today, so I decided to name the newsletter after it in the hopes of getting it a few more eyeballs. You can read it here.

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Keep up with Aaron Gordon's work plus the occasional babble.


Senior Staff Writer, Motherboard