Hot 'Hoods: Covington

This week we continue our spotlight on neighborhoods that are poised for growth in 2014. We asked key community members from Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky to share their insights on how they expect their communities to develop this year.

I’m an architect. I went to the University of Cincinnati and planned on moving to the left coast just as the economy was turning sour in the '90s, but ended up staying in Cincinnati. When it came time to buy a house, I couldn't believe the great home values in Newport and Northern Kentucky—neighborhoods with such rich architecture located within walking distance to a major metropolitan downtown and its parks, music festivals and stadiums. So I settled down in Newport and began working in Covington in 1990, leaving a couple of times but always coming back.

Covington of the last few years is much different than the Covington where I made my start 24 years ago. There's a youthful vibrancy present now—a can-do attitude. An attitude that will sooner do for itself than wait for someone else to do it. It's grass-roots, it’s community-based and it’s awesome. This entrepreneurial spirit is exemplified by shops like flow, district 78, Shrewdness of Apes and BLDG. Covington chooses to focus on the positive, demonstrated by groups and events like The Awesome Collective, A Rally for Progress and (hopefully first annual) Be Awesome: A Mini Conference for Change-Makers. This vibrancy and engagement makes Covington truly unique among all Northern Kentucky communities.

Covington offers diversity
Covington is also diverse. You'll likely hear this a lot throughout this Soapbox Hot 'Hoods series, but diversity means different things for different neighborhoods. Covington has a deep sampling of humanity that gives us such a rich and authentic texture. Shirts are optional. Show off your tricked-out bicycle with onboard stereo system. It’s all here. And Covington doesn’t apologize for it. We celebrate it. We love it.

Take our food, for example: At one end of Main Street you can get the greasiest bacon and eggs prepared by someone smoking a cigarette while watching a marionette band any time of day or night at Anchor Grill, and at the other end enjoy a four-star meal and fine dining at Bouquet. Other cultural and culinary gems include Wunderbar and its homemade pretzels, and 100 years of bourbon at Molly Wellmann's Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar.

On February 3, the One Damn Bad Oyster Party will celebrate the life and character of Covington resident William Goebel. Goebel died after being shot by an unknown assailant, but before he died, he exclaimed to his doctor, “Doc, that was one damn bad oyster." During the fundraising event, organized by the Awesome Collective, a re-enactment of the anecdote will be staged and fresh oysters on the half shell will be offered. This is just one more example of Covington's unique personality.

The city is diverse in its environment too. The urban core of Covington is surrounded by 700 (seven hundred!) acres of woods. To the west you'll find Devou Park where you can golf, hike, play tennis, fish, get married, listen to an outdoor symphony and mountain bike (not necessarily in that order). To the east, Licking River Greenway and Trails offers a five-mile (soon to be 12-mile) trail from the mouth of the Licking River in Covington to Interstate 275 where you can walk and enjoy urban art murals.

In fact, our art history runs deep and wide. Baker Hunt Art & Cultural Center has been offering art education and hosting events for 100 years. The Carnegie has a strong tradition of education, performances and gallery art. The Behringer-Crawford Museum in Devou Park gives visitors a rich lesson in Northern Kentucky history and archaeology (plus an amazing working toy train display). We ring in spring with the Duveneck Art Show  and welcome fall with Art Off Pike. BLDG has brought in several international artists and decorated our city with some impressive urban art. And Covington Arts, a city-staffed gallery in the heart of the city, regularly hosts outstanding art shows as well as community gatherings.

Covington offers community
There's a real sense of community embodied in a multitude of festivals and gatherings where everyone comes out to celebrate Covington, including Art Off Pike, RoeblingFest, PARK(ing) Day, Oktoberfest, Maifest, the Covington Farmers Market, Be Awesome: A Mini Conference for Change-Makers, pop-up shops and graffiti parks. There are 19 active neighborhood associations in Covington. Licking Riverside was voted a Top 10 Great Neighborhood by the American Planning Association in 2013. The Covington Neighborhood Collaborative and Center for Great Neighborhoods of Covington work to bring all segments of the Covington community together, working toward common goals.

The local government of Covington truly supports the community, too. We have a Main Street program (Renaissance Covington), an arts center (Covington Arts), and financial incentives for commercial and residential development. We have an arborist on city staff, and we’re set to hire urban agriculture and farmers market managers. We have a local government that recognizes what’s important to its citizens and leads the way through fantastic public/private partnerships.

Covington is fair. In 2003, we expanded our human rights ordinance to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Covington was the first city in the region and third in the state of Kentucky to do so. In 2012, the city adopted domestic partner benefits for same sex relationships.

We even have our own (fantastic) news source. If you want to know anything about what’s happening in Covington and Northern Kentucky, hit up RiverCity News

Covington offers opportunity
Where is Covington headed? Covington is set to explode, to take advantage of its potential, especially the underutilized parts.  We're even seizing opportunities in the leftover spaces of the city, setting up pop-up Shops, Art Off Pike, RoeblingFest, urban farming, food trucks and graffiti parks. And the temporary appropriation of these unpurposed spaces is about to become permanent, proving that creative entrepreneurial endeavors can grow into permanent development.

And Covington is experiencing a renaissance in more traditional development, too. Big projects already underway include Gateway Community & Technical College's Urban/Metro Campus, Hotel Covington and Mutual Fire Apartment. And startup incubators and accelerators like Biologic and UpTech are helping entrepreneurs turn their business dreams into profitable realities. Covington is a blank canvas with infinite potential.

Looking further into the future, I believe Covington's success will be fueled by the engagement of youth and then, ultimately, their families. Our city's focus must change from entertainment to education. We have a wonderful tradition of education at Glenn O. Swing Elementary, Latonia Elementary, Holmes High School, Holy Cross, Covington Latin and Covington Catholic. These institutions will foster Covington’s next generation.

That's just the stuff I know about. There are so many engaged folks in Covington. Ask any one of them what makes Covington awesome and you'll discover something new. So come explore Covington. You’ll love it.

Jim Guthrie is an architect at Hub+Weber Architects in Covington. His community work in Covington includes Art Off Pike, Renaissance Covington, Make Covington Pop, Art Is …, and Covington’s Urban Design Review Board.

Check out the other neighborhoods featured in this series:
Walnut Hills
Price Hill

Learn more about what's happening in Covington:

Dual enrollment makes college more affordable by giving kids a head start
Shannan Boyer balances a business, a blog and two boys
Companies' moves creating 341 new jobs in Northern Kentucky
Randolph Park redesign in the works for City of Covington
New Kentucky Career Center coming to Covington
Gateway Tech receives $100,000 grant for Urban Metro Campus
Fortvna chocolate shop coming to Covington


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