In a recent essay in The Baffler, Thomas Frank launched a vicious broadside against The Vibrant. You know the one: that mysterious quality all American cities are hotly pursuing, apart from those, like Portland and Austin, that have already caught it by the tail. No one’s exactly sure what it is or how to measure it, but it seems to involve plenty of artists and musicians riding bikes to coffee shops. Over the last decade, American policymakers have decided that whatever it is, it’s good for business.
Much of Frank’s ire is directed at the term itself. He spends nearly half the essay — almost 2,000 words — ruthlessly demonstrating the vacuity of “vibrancy.” To be sure, I’ll think twice before discussing a new Castro initiative’s prospects of finally making downtown vibrant again, or the possibility that a brewpub could launch a vibrant new era for the near East Side.