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DOES RED BANK NEED A ‘HIP’ TRANSPLANT?

IMG_1659 Big Bill Morganfield performs at the 2007 Red Bank Jazz & Blues Festival. Which is hipper, jazz or blues? Or is it the festival itself that’s ‘hip?’

Parking shortages. Exorbitant parking fines. Red tape at borough hall. Greedy landlords.

Among the many peeves, public floggings and constructive suggestions we expect to hear aired at tonight’s “economic summit” on how to revive Red Bank’s sagging commercial fortunes, one topic is unlikely to get much attention:

What to do about the relentless use of the word ‘hip’ to describe our little burg.

‘Hip City.’ ‘Hip Town.’ They’re the go-to phrases for phoned-in yet earnest descriptions of Red Bank like this one, and this one. And a thousand others, it seems.

Then there’s the TriCity News out of Asbury Park, which puts ‘Hip City’ in sardonic quotation marks — yet is as boosterish about Red Bank as any chamber of commerce shill, suggesting that, deep down, it kinda likes the label.

Now, to be sure, with the national economy spiraling drainward and Red Bank showing no sign of bucking the tide, there are bigger and more substantive issues at stake here than semantics. No argument there.

But as long as we’re talking about a possible repositioning of downtown Red Bank in the public imagination, can somebody please come up with something better? How do we put an end to this plague of purported hipposity?

Contrary to what some people might say, it’s not that there’s no hipness here.

We occasionally hear the argument that, whatever its attractions, Red Bank is not and will never be hip as long as it doesn’t provide … fill in the blank. A throbbing, meat-district style dance club. Galleries that show truly provocative art. Performance venues whose reputation is built on cutting edge acts, rather than geezers making their annual account sweeps on song catalogs that predate not only iPods, but CDs and cassette tapes. Peter Frampton, anyone?

That’s not our argument. Because even if particular examples of what might be called hip are both infrequent and open to debate — is Funk and Standard hip? The annual Jazz & Blues fest? How about Red Bank Surplus? — there are enough little bursts of retail liveliness and individuality to argue that collectively, there is a distinct vibe downtown.

Yes, even now, with empty storefronts proliferating.

Nor is it that Red Bank isn’t hip by comparison to most of the towns that surround it, even though that’s a laughable standard when you’re talking about places with no central business district and lots of strip malls.

No, our problem is, and always has been, with the word itself. Is there anything less hip than ‘hip?’

It already was well past its prime when it was first applied beginning about 15 years ago, just as Red Bank was stirring itself after a long period of economic irrelevance. (Some locals with long memories blame New Jersey Monthly for first applying the adjective back then, but surely, the label was as inevitable as its leading challenger, ‘quaint.’)

But whatever juice it might still have had then, by now, its got about as much life left in it as Caroline Kennedy‘s senate push.

We asked Nancy Adams, executive director of Red Bank RiverCenter, the business district’s official marketing arm, about her take on ‘hip.’

“We never use it. Never,” she tells redbankgreen. “I’ve never used it any presentation. In fact, everyone here is very tired of it.”

At the same time, though, she says, that’s the statewide perception of the town, and it does bring in visitors.

“I don’t think it’s a negative,” says Adams. “It’s actually kind of helpful.”

So, is it worth tinkering with, and if so, what might replace it, and how? There’s the challenge. Have at it, folks.

Right after you figure out that whole parking/red tape/greedy landlords thing, of course.

The economic summit, featuring a panel of public officials, is free and open to all comers. It runs from 7 to 9p at the Count Basie Theatre.

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