It was a neighbourhood regarded by locals as a concrete strip connecting the city centre to Glasgow's trendy west end – so how did Finnieston suddenly become the hippest place in Britain, according to The Times? And when did Dundee turn into what GQ called the “coolest little city” around?

What happened in these places is the kind of thing that is taking place in post-industrial areas of cities all over the world, so much so that there are words for it, from the g-word of “gentrification” to “the Shoreditch effect”.

Yet each place has its own story, its own explanations for how it gained the label "cool".

When it comes to Finnieston, for instance, did the miracle begin with a bar, a cluster of artists’ studios, the sandwich shop, the destination restaurant or the great hulking concert venue? With Dundee is it all about the art school and the new V&A museum, or is it the thriving video games industry and the restaurant scene?

Communities always have their own answers to these questions. Walk around Argyle Street in Finnieston and you’ll hear a lot of talk about where it all started. Some credit Piece, the “gourmet sandwichmongers” that arrived on the strip in 2008. Others talk about Joe Mulholland, who created the artist studios in the Hidden Lane out the back, and is now developing the Hive, another artist’s community. Some refer to the Crabshakk. Some mention the Hydro, and the regular floodings of cash from concert-going crowds. Still others speak of The Ben Nevis, a bar once boarded up and run down, now a destination in its own right, featured in guides and magazines, its façade traditional rather than self-consciously trendy. Manager Allan Cunningham, behind the bar serving pints when I meet him, notes: “People will walk past here and not think anything of it because what they’re looking for is some trendy bar to go to. Whereas here is actually very cool.”

Cunningham talks about "real bars" and uses the word “real” frequently. It is a word that touches on a key issue. After all the loss of this elusive quality is one of the anxieties attached to gentrification. At some point people start looking down their street and wondering what happened to all the “real” or “authentic” places. When I ask him what he thinks of The Times accolade he says: “I take that with a pinch of salt. One of the places I like is Leith. Leith is real. I like places that are real. I class The Ben as one of those places.”

Finnieston, he says, is a mix of both, “the real” and the not-so-real.

But it’s not just about beginnings. It’s also about where it goes from there. Many pinpoint the final elevation of Finnieston to hip destination to the arrival of Ox and Finch on Sauchiehall Street nearly two years ago – a restaurant now so popular that to get a weekend table you have to book two months in advance. It, however, is not the only restaurant here to have a Michelin Bib Gourmand, a commendation that has also been awarded to The Gannet on Argyle Street. A diner tells me Ox and Finch was “the turning point”. “It is the Finnieston benchmark,” he says.

Part of it, too, is media hype. When academics and commentators describe the process of gentrification, they often mention a phase in which an area is “discovered”, as if it were some lost continent, by the media. When, over a week ago, The Times pinned its “hippest” flag to the place, really it was following where other writers had been before, in a whole slew of increasingly hyperbolic recent articles. Finnieston had been discovered. Though of course many already knew it was there, and not always as the place The Times described. Just as many already knew of Dundee’s artists, tech entrepreneurs and games designers long before GQ anointed it “coolest little city” in 2014.

What’s striking is that actually this trendy Finnieston is small, a pocket of trendiness rather than a full-hipped swathe. The “strip” as some people call it is only about a quarter of a mile long, and really not much more than a cluster of shops, bars and restaurants. But size, perhaps, doesn’t matter. The fact that it’s small may be what is mitigating against the area seeming over-gentrified. Ordinary people can continue to live alongside the rising tide of hipsters. As Rachel Smith, who works in the Hidden Gallery says: “People don’t want to be called the “New West End”. It’s like in London places don’t want to be called the new Notting Hill. You know, we don’t want that. Years and years ago when the West End really was the place, there was so much variety. You can see that variety here now. But I think what’s nicer is there’s a better mix. There are people who have always been here who don’t feel like they have to leave. Nobody’s pushing them out.”

Hipness, however, is usually only a fleeting state. The process of gentrification is all too often a leadening and alienating one. I suspect Finnieston made it to the top of The Times list because actually it’s only in the early stages of gentrification, hovering somewhere between what academics call the “first wave”, when the artists and creatives move in, and its second wave – the arrival of the restaurants, shops and cafes. As yet those artists can afford to set up studios, and there has been little significant forcing out of the original residents. Dundee hovers at a similar state, though bigger, more complex and less uniform, remaining a city of mixed communities.

To what extent is Finnieston gentrified already? It’s possible, online, to find lists of the signs of gentrification. Particularly entertaining is an A-Z published by Urban 75. I go through their list on Argyle Street, checking off the different criteria. “Artists everywhere”, check (plenty in the studio-area called the Hidden Lane). “Trendy barbers”, check (the Soul Barbers, where you are offered a Goose Juice IPA as you get your trim). Craft beers, check (drowning in them). “Media people”, check (the BBC is just down the road). “Old shop signage kept above a trendy new and unrelated store”, check. “Beards…” actually, not quite check. Finnieston isn’t seething with facial hair. In fact, on a Thursday afternoon, I witnessed only four or five full blown beards. This could be, of course, because Finnieston is a grooming frontier so hip it is beyond the beard. But, it seemed more than that. For instance, in Ox & Finch, the smooth hairless chins appeared to be the mark of suited business types, out for a working lunch.

“Eateries”, check (too many to mention). “Artisan bakeries”, check (Seb & Mili’s). “Organic everything”, check (almost everything if it weren’t for the Tesco Express, Sainsbury Local and Day-Today). This is a street where even The Grove chippy, the fish and chip shop that was there long before the whole Finnieston thing happened, has emblazoned across its front window, “We fry in organic oil”. The Soil Association should come down here and take samples: even the pavement must be certifiable by now.

At the same time, Finnieston, doesn’t yet show all the signs of gentrification. There are none of the “ludicrous little lapdogs”, the “Apple stores”, the specialist cheese shops, the “pampered pet stores” or the “personal trainers” of Urban 75’s A-Z. In London the process of gentrification is often so rapid a place has barely been invaded by a few artists and musicians and its already got a Café Nero and impossible house prices. But here in Scotland, and particularly in Glasgow, the evolution is slow and tentative. There is breathing space, room in which to challenge the negative impacts of gentrification. Finnieston is hip because the locals and artists haven’t quite been priced out of the housing market yet. If they had, it would no longer be hip. It would no longer be “real”. And The Times would be looking somewhere else altogether; probably just the next neighbourhood down the road.