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Vibrant: May I Use That Word?

Whenever a term is overused, it's up for snark attack. Ben Brown seeks to inoculate himself and others against that tendency, by describing why community health is an admirable goal and how it's connected to economic development (and beer).
July 25, 2012, 5am PDT | Hazel Borys
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Brown muses on what the arrival of a craft beer brewer means to Asheville's redeveloping River Arts District, and finds himself responding to a recent diatribe attacking, "everything remotely connected with "vibrancy" as a goal for urban planning."

"I began to think of taking beer production and consumption to the next level, as an indicator, a quantifiable marker of the 'creative class' economy Richard Florida talks about," writes Brown. "Then I had a snark attack, a reoccurrence of an affliction developed over 20 years as a newspaper reporter. It presents this way: You come upon an idea pushed with maybe a little too much idealistic enthusiasm, especially by folks who are easy to make fun of. And the impulse to ridicule is just too overwhelming to resist."

Brown then goes on to describe some people's reaction to the overuse of the word "vibrancy" in urban planning and community life. While it may come across as phony to some, with farmers markets, craft beer breweries, art festivals and the like entertaining the creative class, Brown looks beyond the semantics, to the meat of the debate.

"We have a tendency to mistake the sizzle for the steak. If it has meaning at all, 'vibrancy,' taken together with a bunch of other indicators, implies community health, just as it might imply an individual's health. But it's more of an indicator than a driver. More effect, than cause. So imagining that a few street festivals and an art show will work magic in the absence of harder, more complicated work is naïve – and near criminal if chasing vibrancy diverted millions of dollars in cities from more productive, community-enhancing projects. But it doesn't."

"The places out front in the vibrancy sweepstakes tend to be those that discovered a healthy cultural vitality working on smaller scales, figured out links between that vitality and the quality-of-life components that citizens and companies value, then funneled a few extra bucks in that direction. Which gets me back to Asheville and beer..."

Here's hoping in the next blog, he gets around to that Urban Beer Index!

Thanks to Hazel Borys

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Published on Monday, July 23, 2012 in PlaceShakers
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