Here’s why revitalizing a city doesn’t have to mean erasing its history.
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The Kresge Foundation

Imagine your childhood neighborhood. Now imagine waking up one morning to a bulldozer ready to plow it down.

Plenty of people would, understandably, have an emotional reaction at the idea that the place they grew up was about to be torn to the ground.

For some, a city full of little boutiques and expensive coffee shops is the ultimate sign of progress and growth. But for the people who have lived there much longer — whose homes stood long before the frozen yogurt and the bike lanes — this can be a painful process.


As the face of their neighborhood transforms, the cost of living is driven up, often causing longtime residents to lose their homes and, along with it, their connection to a place and its history.

But does revitalizing a neighborhood have to mean erasing its history? In the Westside neighborhood of Covington, Kentucky, the answer is a resounding “no.”

Photo by Annie O'Neill, provided by the Center for Great Neighborhoods of Covington.

Covington once looked like any other casualty of urban flight, as residents began to move from the city to the suburbs for a variety of reasons. Then a state highway was expanded a decade ago, splitting the city’s Westside neighborhood right down the middle. This contributed to disinvestment in the area, as historic buildings fell into disrepair and the value of homes began to fall. Before long, Covington was a city in decline.

But instead of getting discouraged, community members and organizations began to mobilize to save their city.

One organization in particular — the Center for Great Neighborhoods of Covington — had a vision for change. And unlike many revitalization efforts elsewhere, they didn’t want Covington to become unrecognizable. In fact, they wanted the exact opposite.

Photo by Annie O'Neill, provided by the Center for Great Neighborhoods of Covington.

Rather than treating Covington like a blank slate for outsiders to change, they turned to the existing community to reclaim the city they loved.

They tried something called “creative placemaking,” which encourages creative and artistic efforts to strengthen a community from within. And they did this by getting their own local artists involved.

Photo by Annie O'Neill.

Kate Greene, program manager of community development at the Center, says that Covington had everything it needed all along. “It has a makers’ history,” she explains. “[There’s] a ton of artists — whether they define themselves as artists or not.”

The Westside had an abundance of creativity — be it storytelling, sculpture, ceramics, or stained glass — just waiting to be tapped into. “We’re really trying to take that and bring it to the surface again,” Greene explains.

Photo by Annie O'Neill.

For example, the Center worked with a local artist to organize a community dinner that included a stenciled paper tablecloth that attendees could write on. Residents were asked about their neighborhoods and how to make them better — focusing on access to fresh food in particular — and they responded directly on the tablecloth.

In this way, the Center was able to reach residents who might otherwise not share. “[It was] to get other people’s voices … who maybe weren’t inclined to raise their hand or speak up,” says Greene.

Photo by Stacey Wegley, provided by the Center for Great Neighborhoods of Covington.

It was these voices, many of whom were engaged for the first time, that began to transform Covington.

With the help of grants — including from The Kresge Foundation, as part of their Fresh, Local and Equitable initiative known as FreshLo — the Center was able to empower residents.

These funds allowed them to teach classes, rehab historic homes, organize community events, create artists’ studios, and most importantly, build lasting connections, with a particular focus on the Westside neighborhood.

“A lot of people [think] it’s just murals and sculptures and mosaics … but in our work, that’s really not important to us,” Greene explains. “How did you build that sculpture together? What connections were made? Who was making decisions? Did new leaders surface? All of those elements are the key.”

Tatiana Hernandez, Senior Program Officer at the Kresge Foundation, agrees. "Creative approaches are needed to meaningfully address the systemic barriers facing low-income residents," she explains. "[We can] give residents a sense of agency, and contribute to the narrative of a place."

Photo by Stacey Wegley.

“[It’s] a way to build pride in the community,” Greene adds.

These efforts have allowed the neighborhood to hold onto its identity and history, even as the city changes.

That identity is what makes Covington unique.

“I don't [want] Covington to lose its identity and become gentrified,” says Tashia Harris, a lifetime resident and community consultant for the Center. “I like the beautiful mix of cultures that I'm surrounded by here, and creative placemaking [is] helping Covington keep its identity.”

Photo by Stacey Wegley.

Your childhood neighborhood might not have had a gourmet sandwich shop. But maybe it had a corner store stocked with your favorite soda or an old Victorian house on the corner that always reminded you of a castle. Maybe it had a barber that cut your hair for the first time or a rec center where you learned to swim.

Revitalizing a city doesn’t have to mean losing what makes it special. And in Covington, Kentucky, it’s places just like these — and the history they hold — that make it still feel like home.

Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
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The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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Canva

As millions of Americans have raced to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, millions of others have held back. Vaccine hesitancy is nothing new, of course, especially with new vaccines, but the information people use to weigh their decisions matters greatly. When choices based on flat-out wrong information can literally kill people, it's vital that we fight disinformation every which way we can.

Researchers at the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a not-for-profit non-governmental organization dedicated to disrupting online hate and misinformation, and the group Anti-Vax Watch performed an analysis of social media posts that included false claims about the COVID-19 vaccines between February 1 and March 16, 2021. Of the disinformation content posted or shared more than 800,000 times, nearly two-thirds could be traced back to just 12 individuals. On Facebook alone, 73% of the false vaccine claims originated from those 12 people.

Dubbed the "Disinformation Dozen," these 12 anti-vaxxers have an outsized influence on social media. According to the CCDH, anti-vaccine accounts have a reach of more than 59 million people. And most of them have been spreading disinformation with impunity.

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Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
True

The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

Keep Reading Show less