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

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

www.youtube.com

Quantum immortality?

Might we never really pass on into nothingness? Has the world ended many times before? Are we in fact doomed to spend eternity unknowingly jumping from one dimension to the next? According to one TikTok theory, the answer is yes. And it's blowing millions of minds worldwide.

Keep Reading Show less