Hip is an ever-changing abstraction. But, right now, the Quad-Cities have tapped deep into a generation's collective nostalgic vein in ways that hundreds of post-industrial communities can only dream of doing.
Just a decade ago, people would look at downtown Davenport and say "last one to leave should turn off the lights." Blight, sprawl and crumbling remnants of the city's industrial past defined the river front. Fire gutted the Hotel Blackhawk. Remaining businesses clung to life.
A destination, for locals and tourists alike, it wasn't.
It's all changed.
Now, those brick-and-mortar industrial buildings house educated young professionals, feeding a generation's appreciation for concrete and duct work. Grab some Fleetwood Mac on vinyl at Ragged Records on 2nd Street. Head over to the farmer's market on River Drive for organic produce and meats. Maybe drop some quarters on Centipede, released way back in 1980, at Analog Arcade Bar. Stop at any number of boutiques, craft breweries, restaurants and art shops along the way. Oh, and don't forget a sandwich or some bluestocking coffee at Redband Coffee Company for a pick-me-up.
Davenport is cool. Davenport is a city of its time.
The excitement over locally sourced foods -- and a bacon renaissance, oddly enough -- is paired with a desire for an active lifestyle. Davenport has, for years, taken heat because it never built a flood wall. The rest of state would openly gripe about flood assistance every time the Mississippi River jumped its banks.
"Why should we help if they won't help themselves?" they'd say.
Yet the decision, while certainly problematic, now seems somehow prescient. The river is an oculary centerpiece. The riverside trails are busy with runners and cyclists when the weather is pleasant. People flock there.
This week, Daytrotter's downtown music venue and recording studio officially opened, ending years of hard work and waiting. Founder Sean Moeller is creating a buzz in the indie music scene, a blurry non-genre that has massive upside in a social-media obsessed world.
Bars in Rock Island are go-to nightlife destinations. The iWireless Center hosts concerts throughout the year in Moline. Minor league sports can be found on either side of the river. An organic grocery store is headed to Rock Island's downtown. Major employers, such as Deere and Company, Alcoa and the Rock Island Arsenal, remain seminal members of the community. The focus on bolstering quality of life, while turning a profit, is a win for the armies of workers. It's a selling point for would-be investors. History Channel's "American Pickers" highlights the region's aesthetic appreciation for rusty steel and bygone technology by following antique dealers Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz.
Yes, the Great Recession hit the Quad-Cities especially hard. The recovery has been unusually slow. But, as with most cases of punctuated equilibrium, the organism created by the upheaval will be finely tuned for the world as it is.
The Quad-City Times isn't stagnant, either, as the community shifts. We're overhauling our Weekend and Food sections, embracing the youthful movement. In mid-February, readers will see an entirely new online calendar, which will be a one-stop, comprehensive list of events in the Quad-Cities on any given day.
The times have changed. And so must we.
It's a message that each of the Quad-Cities and hundreds of investors have seized upon. East Coast papers have spilled countless barrels of ink predicting the Pabst Blue Ribbon-swilling "next Brooklyn." But, in so many cases, big dreams didn't pan out.
That's not the case in the Quad-Cities. A palpable buzz exudes throughout the region.
The Quad-Cities are hip. Now get out and enjoy it.