Is the capitol complex plan good? Who can tell?
August 5, 1977
The State of Illinois has produced dozens of studies, plans, and memos regarding changes to the capitol complex, but this one from 1977 stands above them all. Many a plan was never implemented because of cost or because of political opposition; this might have been the first to fail because no one could understand what was being planned.
On July 21, the state's Capital Development Board released a summary of its master plan for the development of the capitol complex over the next quarter century. The plan calls for a four-phase program which would result in the construction of new state library, museum, courts and office buildings and related utilities and parking facilities. Total cost is estimated to be close to $250 million, though the bill is certain to run higher.
A detailed critique of the plan must await publication later in August of the four-volume Comprehensive Plan Report. Until then we are left with the summary, which was prepared for the CDB by the consulting architects C. F. Murphy Associates and Ferry & Henderson, Architects, Inc. What it says about the state's plans for the statehouse area is interesting, but not nearly as interesting as the way it says it.
Bureaucrats spend words the way politicians spend money. For example, we are told, "As the major owner and office tenant, in the City of Springfield, State government generates activities which influence and impact the Community beyond the immediate environs recognized as the State Capitol Complex." Translation: When the state gets a nose itch, Springfield sneezes.
Bureaucrats put so many words between their subjects and their verbs that they sometimes lose track of both. The summary informs us, rather lamely, that "The enormous costs that are paid annually for many inadequate facilities that are out of necessity being occupied throughout the community can be more appropriately and efficiently gathered within the Capitol District."
Just for fun, I oiled up the pruning shears and tried to trim down that sentence, but when I finished cutting there was nothing left. Its author had managed to write a sentence without a subject. "Enormous costs' cannot be what is being gathered within the capitol district; that would be meaningless. Neither does it make sense to gather "inadequate facilities" there; surely the point of the plan is to do exactly the opposite. What is it, then, that can be "more appropriately and efficiently gathered"? Either the author doesn't know what he's talking about—something we've all suspected for years—or he does know and he has resolved not to let the rest of us know what it is. If the latter is his intention, he has pulled it off perfectly.
Hacking one's way through this thicket of words is tiring work, and the labor is only occasionally rewarded by the thoughts concealed behind the verbal overgrowth. Redundancies lay in a tangle across the reader's path, ready to trip up the careless; “the interrelationship of State Government units among themselves" is only the most obvious such obstacle.
There are other mysteries. Consider this passage: "Relatively little attention have been given to the physical growth of the State Capitol Facilities." In the short distance between opening capital and closing period, the careful reader will encounter one redundancy ("physical growth": what other kinds of growth are facilities likely to undergo?), one error in usage (' 'capitol" for "capital," a common goof in a town that ought to know better by now), one of verb-noun agreement (“attention have been paid”), and one instance of runaway capitalization (“Facilities”).
These are not frivolous issues. We have reached the point at which we can no longer understand what our government is trying to say to us. And, though it is true that bureaucrats speak the same language, I doubt that they understand each other very well either. The planners for the CDB, for instance propose to spend a quarter of a billion dollars in twenty years to rebuild the Capitol Complex—and they can't construct a simple English sentence.
A concluding example: “The predictable and traditional growth of State Government forecasts that the proposed construction into the Twenty-First Century will certainly assist in meeting the present inadequacies and the future demands, but does not indicate the creation of an unusual burden upon the private sector, which has continued through the years, to build to meet the demand or modify existing buildings when the need could be recognized.”
I read that sentence three times and I still don't know what it means. I would be obliged if some reader were to explain it to me. Send translations to the Illinois Times, P.O. Box 5102, Springfield, IL 62705. Twenty-five words or less, please. And do it in English. □