This paper seeks to contribute to the growing urban research agenda around the small City by examining the nature of innovative institutional sub-municipal governance in securing and sustaining vitality and viability at the local level. It revisits Bergson's Creative Evolution and his ideas around the élan vital and the need to invoke both a philosophical and an empirical approach to understanding change. We use these insights to consider the nature of 'the vital city'. The paper then contrasts these 'softer' and intrinsic qualities with the 'harder' policy rhetoric of 'vitality and viability' used in the context of British town centres and retail policy. The discussion is illustrated through a case study of a recently successful attempt to introduce a Business Improvement District in Inverness, Scotland. The paper suggests that in order to be considered vital, a city should not be complacent, conservative, or resistant to change, Moreover, vitality can be enhanced through the softer and more spiritual dimensions suggested by the thinking around the élon vital. The paper advances the case for progressive change through creative evolution.