March 27, 2013

And yet when white people talk about a place full of white people as being “vibrant,” what do they mean?

The more I’ve thought about urbanist uses of the word, the more I’ve come to believe that underlying all the goodthink euphemisms, there lurks a Platonic essence of an honest definition. I believe that if you strip away the phony tinsel of vibrancy, you’ll find the real tinsel underneath.

Nobody has gotten more mileage out of the V-word than Dr. Richard Florida, who spent the last eleven years giving speeches at up to $35,000 a pop to local civic leaders on how they can bring vibrant urbanism and urban vibrancy to their hick burgs. Since it’s impossible to talk about Florida’s economic geography theory without getting the professor hopelessly confused with the state, I’ve long called him Dr. Vibrant.

His shtick has been that having a lot of gays, immigrants, and artists”€”the “creative class””€”will bring profitable industry to town. If you are wondering why gay marriage has become such a popular cause among Chamber of Commerce types, don’t overlook Dr. Vibrant’s relentless speechmaking. He’s been presenting gays to local burghers as a sort of magic talisman of prosperity. It’s gone over great with provincial worthies who are a little vague on whether or not Silicon Valley is in San Francisco.

In my observation, the arrow of causation runs largely in the opposite direction: gays, immigrants, and artists follow the big-money boys. If, say, Clarksdale, Mississippi still has more farmers than bohemians, it’s primarily because Clarksdale is poor.

If a place is rich enough, it will soon fill up with Dr. Vibrant’s kind of people. For example, in the late 1970s, I went to Rice U. in Houston. After OPEC raised the price of oil in 1973, Houston overflowed with skyscrapers and homosexuals. Did the gays bring the giant oil companies to Houston, as Dr. Vibrant’s theory implies? No, the high price of gasoline brought extra money to oil-company employees, who gave much of it to their wives, who sometimes spent it on dresses and decorating.

Competing economic geographer Joel Kotkin (whose less fashionable but more sensible shtick is that the suburbs are a nice, affordable place to raise a family) has recently taken a swipe at Dr. Vibrant. Kotkin points out that in the Obama Age, when the economy’s precarious vitality is ironically dependent on the politically retrograde energy and agriculture sectors, the lowest unemployment rates are frequently found in places with more natural resources than people. (Dr. Vibrant angrily responded.)

Still, I don’t think North Dakota will wrench the mantle of vibrancy from Lower Manhattan anytime soon. (At present, the neighborhoods north of Wall Street, with their countless chic restaurants, look like all the romantic comedies in the history of the world are being filmed there simultaneously.)

That’s because I have an ultra-reductionist theory of what people really mean when they honestly think of a place as “vibrant.”

They mean that there are attractive women walking around at night.

That’s it.

My four decades of watching beautiful women have revealed that they tend to be found in prosperous places. Indeed, if you have lots of good-looking women, then the dynamic artists, gay boutique owners, and immigrant busboys will take care of themselves.

Civic leaders of America, despite what Dr. Vibrant has told you, all you have to do to have your town considered “vibrant” is to attract attractive women.

Also, to get people to say you have “good schools,” just get good students.

Please make your checks for $35,000 out to “Cash.”



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