It is easy to look at the development in OTR and downtown Covington and see the upside. More and more, we have beauty replacing blight and new, interesting places to eat, shop, and live. If you have tried to go on a Friday night to eat at Bakersfield or Senate or any of the restaurants on Vine or Main, you know you’ll be waiting awhile. And they are pretty too. Right here in Covington, we have the Mutual Building renovation and Hotel Covington, both beautiful in our completely biased opinion, attracting buzz. These are all great developments that will drive spending, increase tax revenue, and provide amenities to lure in new residents. And from an architect’s perspective, its amazing to see old, historically significant buildings being given life again.
It is because it’s so easy to see the benefits, that we so quickly lose sight of the downside. The revitalization of these areas and areas like it across the country can push out and displace the residents that lived there and built the culture to begin with. Development can bring with it a heavy focus on consumption that can often overcome community. This sort of development that doesn’t cultivate the diversity and depth that keeps communities strong and economically stable can be very hard to sustain in the long term.
The typical arch that gentrification follows starts with artists. Creative types seek out authentic communities, full of life and culture. Right behind this influx of hipsters is investment. But it is when that investment is skewed toward the new demographic, an outward reach rather than an inward focus, that the established get pushed out.
But all is not lost. We can combat this. Involve the community in the development plan. Get to know the established residents. That means talking to them. AND Listening to them. Avoid the thought trap that employing people is the same as inclusion. It’s not. It’s placing the existing community in a position of servitude to the new community.
We also have to make sure that economic development is directly tied to community development. Support the existing businesses in the community and make conscious consumer choices. Shop at the local shops, drink in the local taverns, support the existing church, social and community organizations.
And, as we recognize Historic Preservation month, make sure you know the history of your neighborhood, both aesthetically and functionally. Don’t make it attractive - recognize, realize and develop its inherent attractiveness. Don’t make it an “attraction”. Avoid objectifying the community by creating a false or inauthentic aesthetic. Because it won’t last. Understand the people and the architecture that make up the community and have shaped it, because that is what make it special and give it character.