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Des Moines: Not just nerdy hot

Published on April 15th, 2014 | by Josh Hafner

Sometimes it feels like Des Moines is the municipal version of Rachael Leigh Cook’s character in “She’s All That”: This ostensibly awkward, ugly-duckling-of-a city that we all know is clearly beautiful and attractive, even if no one else does.

So when a Freddie Prinze Jr. of a national publication does take notice and highlights Des Moines on some list, it often comes with what feels like a subtle reservation: For a boring city, Des Moines is actually, sort of, maybe kind of hot.

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Take this write-up from the “Today” show’s January endorsement of Des Moines as America’s “wealthiest city”: “Beverly Hills may be rich and chic and the Upper East Side of Manhattan may be rich and exclusive. But if you’re looking for the city where regular folk can live a rich life, try Des Moines, Iowa.”

Paste Magazine offered a kind write-up of Des Moines’ East Village this month, but it came with subtle qualifications:

“Des Moines is unconcerned with hipness and lofty ambitions; it’s perfectly content with its quietly impressive art museum, quaint as hell turn-of-the-century homes, and robust offering of quirky locally owned shops.”

RELATEDToday show features Des Moines as ‘wealthiest’ city

Quiet. Quaint. Not concerned with anything lofty. A city of regular folk. There’s a certain national image Des Moines can’t yet seem to shake, even in articles that compliment it. It’s one that makes some artists, entrepreneurs and advocates with big ambitions for the city wince.

“It’s always (said) that we’re really good, but we’re not in the same breath,” said Pete Jones.

Jones five years ago founded Des Moines Is Not Boring, a blog that’s been trying to shake bad perceptions of the city since before it ever landed on a Forbes list. He noticed an underswell of pride building up locally, even if no one nationally did, and made the site as a place to put it.

“But accept the fact that we are good,” Jones said. “It’s time to move on and forget the time when we weren’t.”

Erica Carnes is co-owner of Hill Vintage & Knits in the East Village, which got a nod in the recent Paste list. The recognition is great, she said, but there’s a certain underdog benefit to not making the lists, too.

“At what point do you become so cool that you’re no longer cool?” she said. “As long as we’re in Iowa, which is stereotyped as being lame, we’re always going to be on those lists no matter how hard we work on it.”

Mickey Davis, events manager for the Des Moines Social Club, loves the attention Des Moines is getting nationally, but is wary when people say the city could be the next Austin or Portland or Nashville.

“I think it trivializes what we have going for us,” he said. “If you spend so much time thinking about how we stack up, you lose sight that we have some pretty good things going on here.”

What effect do you think national recognition plays in Des Moines’ growth?


About the Author

covers young professionals for The Des Moines Register. Josh can be reached at jhafner@registermedia.com or on Twitter via @joshhafner.



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