What Does "Vibrant" Mean, Anyway?

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The Baffler's Thomas Frank, who you might remember from his book What's the Matter with Kansas?, has a brutal takedown on the idea of "vibrancy" out now, a meaningless idea that somehow has come to symbolize all that is good and wonderful about modern cities, even to our own Imagine Greater Tucson (as seen above):

Even ArtPlace, the big vibrancy project of the NEA, the banks, and the foundations, is not entirely sure that vibrancy can be observed or quantified. That’s why the group is developing what it calls “Vibrancy Indicators”: “While we are not able to measure vibrancy directly,” the group’s website admits, “we believe that the measures we are assembling, taken together, will provide useful insights into the nature and location of especially vibrant places within cities.”

What are those measures? Unfortunately, at press time, they had not yet been announced. But a presentation of preliminary work on the “Vibrancy Indicators” did include this helpful directive: “Inform leaders of the connection between vibrancy and prosperity.”

Got that? We aren’t sure what vibrancy is or whether or not it works, but part of the project is nevertheless “informing” people that it does. The meaninglessness of the phrase, like the absence of proof, does not deter the committed friend of the vibrant: if you know it’s the great good thing, you simply push ahead, moving all before you with your millions.

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