We don't know what 'vibrant' means, but we know we want it

Two & Out
By James Peters
March 3, 2017 - 3:30pm

KAMLOOPS — As Value Village confirms its impending move away from Seymour Street and into Sahali Mall, the debate around the downtown has been reignited. 

The debate flares up from time to time, though it's kind of strange that this time, it has cropped up thanks to the move of a store that sells second hand underwear. 

Every time anyone discusses a downtown in any city in the world, you can bet it will revolve around the word 'vibrant.' 

This is a word that has so many meanings to so many people that it has evolved into something utterly meaningless to anyone. 

Yet planners and promotions types continue to throw it around like confetti after a wedding. 

Is the Kamloops downtown vibrant? 

Well, it depends where you are comparing it to. 

Compared to Vancouver, which has so many pockets of vibrancy it is the cargo shorts of downtowns, Kamloops is not at all vibrant. 

But compared to a lot of other similar cities, we stack up pretty well in the vibrancy department. 

Vibrancy must be some sort of sliding scale, a moving target. 

A downtown can always get more vibrant it seems, unless it reaches a critical mass of vibrancy, and the anti-vibrants come in and shut things down. 

The writer Thomas Frank puts forth that 'vibrant' is simply codified language for gentrification

If only there were more exclusive boutiques and gourmet coffee shops, we could achieve peak vibrancy. 

That is, if only downtown was a place where us middle class suburbanites could feel like we won't come across a panhandler, wouldn't that be nice? 

In that respect, the departure of a store that primarily serves low income customers should actually contribute to vibrancy. 

But we all know it won't. 

It would do us well to acknowledge what vibrancy really means: people. 

A place for people. 

A place where people live, work and hang out after work. 

Also, a place where people who don't or can't work can access services. 

If that's our working definition, Kamloops has some obvious issues to address. 

The departure of the elementary school didn't help matters, nor does the lack of parking for downtown employees, or the stubborn decision to nix the performing arts centre plan. 

It's a sliding scale, remember. 

Civic leaders have been working on this from long before any of us got here, and will be working on it long after we're all dead. 

They all recognize one thing about vibrancy: even though it's so loosely defined as to be nearly meaningless, we can all agree that it's worth chasing.