In Cary, ‘vibrance’ is the name of the game

akenney@newsobserver.comJuly 8, 2013 


Judy Anallo of Cary taught salsa and Latin jazz dance in April at the intersection of Academy and Chatham streets in downtown Cary as part of the "Seven O'Clock Rock" concert series. Lately, Cary leaders talk a lot about making the town core more "vibrant."


— The Triangle has a new mantra: vibrant, vibrance, vibrancy.

The Boulevard, a proposed mixed-use development that Cary leaders ultimately vetoed, brought a half-dozen invocations of the v-word to Cary Town Hall this spring.

In western Cary, SearStone is a new “vibrant retirement community” built in New Urbanist style.

The multi-colored Hue building is downtown Raleigh’s “most vibrant urban apartment community.”

And developers aren’t the only ones with a vibrant new outlook. The town of Cary wants a “vibrant” downtown, according to local plans, while a regional task force has set itself the task of defining and promoting “vibrant centers.”

To some it’s a buzzword. To others, it’s a term that encapsulates the future of development in Cary and throughout the Triangle.

Vibrancy, in its new definition, is the state of being that arises from walkability, livability and a sense of place. In development and planning circles, the word is shorthand for dense downtown-style mixes of pedestrian-friendly homes, restaurants and offices.

A vibrant area is “compact, complete and connected,” according to John Hodges-Copple, planning director for the Triangle J Council of Governments.

“Rather than saying density, I think a lot of people are thinking of vibrancy now,” said Smedes York, chairman of Raleigh-based York Properties. He pointed to Raleigh’s bustling Cameron Village as a sign of vibrance.

Gregg Sandreuter, a developer who has made his mark in downtown Raleigh, said the word’s fortunes have risen with an increasing focus on urban centers, especially in the last decade.

“The challenges of growth and suburbanization became apparent to all, and the word ‘vibrancy’ came up,” he wrote in an email. “... Vibrancy, when it comes to real estate, is about, ‘How do you create great spaces where people want to be? How do you bring people together?’ ”

Return to city cores

By the numbers, English has been getting more vibrant since the 1970s, according to Google Ngram, a compilation of billions of words.

And the frequency of the word’s use apparently has doubled since 1990 – it now represents 10 of every 1 million words recorded in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, far surpassing “synergy.”

“Every city is either vibrant these days or is working on a plan to attain vibrancy soon,” cultural critic Thomas Frank wrote late last year in The Baffler, a literary journal.

In the Triangle, the Vibrant Centers Task Force says vibrance will come with re-investment in city cores and a focus on mixed-use housing. A vibrant place draws people back again and again, according to the group.

Nationally, a coalition of major foundations and government departments has set out “ Vibrancy Indicators.” ArtPlace, which advocates “creative placemaking,” measures vibrancy by population density, employment rates, the nature and location of jobs, walkability and cellphone activity.

“It is a total reversal of what happens when people left their city, left the town center and moved to the suburbs because they wanted more land,” said Cary Town Councilwoman Gale Adcock.

Too much vibrance?

But vibrance, like any vague zeitgeist, has met its share of criticism too.

Some say over-vibrant city centers can inflate costs and rents. Others foresee their suburban lifestyles overshadowed by high-rise buildings and downtown-mania.

Meanwhile, some people may just get sick of hearing the word.

“Vibrant: the new ‘synergy,’ ” said Scott Hoyt, founder of, a Cary-based real-estate business. “That’s the American way now. We use words until they’re just crushed, and we move on to the next one.”

Kenney: 919-460-2608 or

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