In the heated debate on new residential development in the countryside, rural vitality is used in three different discourses: the agri-rural, utilitarian and hedonist. Discussions on the future of the Dutch countryside in general and a designated National Landscape north of Amsterdam in particular illustrate how the term rural vitality, depending on the discourse, is used to either support or oppose residential development. As in the region studied, the utilitarian discourse is increasingly important and its consequences - residential development in a highly valued landscape - are most controversial, we chose to evaluate its validity. This quantitative evaluation makes use of a geographical information system (GIS) and highly detailed spatial data. The results show no clear relationship between the construction of houses and different indicators of rural vitality such as employment and facility levels. Therefore, we question the validity of the utilitarian discourses' argument for supporting residential development. © 2010 The Authors. Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie © 2010 Royal Dutch Geographical Society KNAG.