Intelligentsia, at first glance, seemed much like any other coffee house. The first few seconds of my experience is similar to my local shop: smell of roasted beans, hip indie music, chatting friends, and many glowing white apple logos. However, the similarities stop there. I was lucky enough to be staying a few blocks from the Chicago shop of Intelligentsia last weekend. I stopped by on both Saturday and Sunday, and the story was the same on both visits: not a single seat is empty, there are at least 6 people in line waiting to order always, and there are at least 4 people waiting to pick up their custom brewed coffee. The people behind Intelligentsia have perfected the 3rd place formula.
The big innovation is the brewing process is celebrated like theater. The machines, both the Clover and the espresso, are situated on the bar so that the patron can watch the barista pull their shot or monitor the Clover. The performance is amplified by the fact that every latte receives a perfect foam decoration. The theater doesn’t stop with the coffee. There are a number of different types of seating: coffee bar, window bar, couches, communal tables, arm chairs, cafe tables, and more. This variety supports any activity a patron could possibly partake in while spending time in the shop. It is both office, living room, dean and private study rolled very well into one.
The furniture, colors, flooring, lighting and even the packaging of the take home beans have a harmony that enhances the drinks. Yet, all this design, marketing and graphics would not mean anything if it weren’t for the fact that the coffee was perfect. The folks behind Intelligentsia are into producing the best coffee. This commitment to quality is what makes this place different then others. One of the keys to creating an authentic place is having a passion and letting that single thing shape the whole experience. At Intelligentsia the coffee is the passion and everything else is there to support the perfect pour of coffee or pull of espresso.
There is a nice stretch of farmland between my in-laws neighborhood and the highway just outside Davenport that will soon be gone. It is the type of farmland that you picture when people talk about Iowa. Like one of the scenes from a holiday movie, it was a beautiful snow covered vista yesterday morning. Soon the government funded sewer project will commence leaving this lands’ future uncertain. The trouble with this lovely stretch of farmland is that we, as in the collective wisdom of our society as prescribed within our zoning laws, have declared the agrarian character of this land obsolete and in waiting. It has been reduced to “developable acres”. The irony is that there is certainly many more acres of infill parcels and parking lots sprinkled throughout Davenport that could add up ten fold what this farmland would throw off in taxes as a Walmart Super Center. Why are we not investing in projects that support long term stability in our communities?
Davenport received $2,000,000 for the West Side Diversion Tunnel Project that will inevitably lead to the demise of this farmland and the new development of 20 square miles of property. But, at what additional cost? Certainly, the rural character found in this area of Davenport will be lost forever. Once the tunnel is completed the burden of this infrastructure’s upkeep will fall fully upon the city. This cost will most likely be far above estimates leading to higher taxes or unstable infrastructure. Neither being good for citizens. At first look, the blame for this environmental catastrophe could be pointed at the shovel ready requirements of government funding. This is not the case. The sprawling outcomes of the ARRA and other public programs is only the result of a much larger systemic problem.
Davenport as well as hundreds, if not thousands, of communities across the county need to grow a pair and pass legislation that is based on long term, common sense thinking. Where does a community grow its food? Can its citizens get around town inexpensively? Can the government afford to operate its infrastructure in its current form for long? Getting smart about Davenport’s zoning laws, growth boundaries and farmland preservation should not be a seen as a problem, but as an opportunity for future stability. With some smart zoning language attached to an aggressive city wide masterplan focused on sound economic growth the beautiful farmland that still surrounds the city will be saved. Couple this with some technical training for local builders on the practices of urban construction and Davenport could catapult itself into a citywide renaissance that, by the way, costs less to maintain, uses less energy, attracts young people and provides better community for all rather than the Super Centers and strip housing that will take the place of such iconic farmland.
“To put it bluntly, the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) is perhaps the only surviving collective intelligence left in the United States that is producing ideas consistent with the reality. They recognize that our survival depends on down-scaling and re-localization. They recognize the crisis we will soon face in food production, and the desperate need to reactivate the relationship between the way we inhabit the landscape and the way we feed ourselves. They recognize that the solution to the liquid fuels crisis is not cars that can run by other means but on walkable towns and cities connected by public transit.” – Too Stupid To Survive by James Howard Kunstler, June 15, 2009