I moved to Washington, D.C. six weeks after college graduation. A cross-country jump to a California university four years earlier had left me eager to return East, and I accepted a job based purely on its location.
It was 1999, but Washington D.C. still hadn’t fully recovered from the 1968 riots and suburban flight. Alone in my new city, I took long walks through downtown to waste the weekend hours. Old department stores were shuttered, entire blocks were vacant. On Saturdays and Sundays, most cafes and shops were closed. Downtown D.C. was a place where you worked, not played.
The post-2000 real estate boom changed that and gave me my first look at urban renewal. I watched buildings go up, saw vacancies go down, and marveled as desperate condo-hunting friends visited two or three open houses before work. A Whole Foods came in on my street, and the neighborhood now boasted new luxury condos, tapas restaurants, and yoga studios. They even removed the Plexiglas at the register of my local liquor store and began stocking pinot noir.
It was an exciting time for the city and gave me an appreciation for metropolitan rebirth. But truthfully, the self-absorption and internal soul-searching one experiences in her 20s leaves little room for full attention to the external aspects of one’s environment. I regret that I watched only with lazy, intermittent interest, about the changes happening around me; never knowing the people, policies, and engines that were driving the change. I never felt connected to D.C. in that way and wasn’t invited to join in.
I moved to Covington in 2014 after my divorce. My weekend walks over to Mainstrasse, up and down Madison, and along the riverfront reminded me of that time when I was 22, slowly exploring on foot and starting out new in a new place. It resonated with me to learn that the urban core of my new city was also in transition.
With place-based renewal comes a fresh energy, and Covington’s is infectious. I’ve lived off that energy and have felt sustained by it. The Bicentennial celebrations gave a nod to the city’s rich history and heritage – and also to its future. Unlike other cities, the opportunities for civic engagement are plentiful. The ideas for ways to improve the quality of life for residents and prospects for businesses are often creative, compelling and I was welcomed to the conversation with open arms.
Renaissance Covington has introduced me to many of those ideas and efforts, as it fosters a connection with those who are making change happen. I’ve loved watching how the organization transforms public spaces with events like Art Off Pike, the Covington Farmer’s Market, and the Night Bazaar, not to mention the infamous Goebel Goats parade (that was me chalking the street course and hanging balloons along the ill-fated parade route, before the goats’ defiant escape and subsequent safe return). I’m glad to know there is such a thing as a National Main Street Program, that Covington is accredited for it and that Renaissance Covington was cited this year as a semi-finalist for the National Main Street Award.
Covington has captured my attention and affection in a way that Washington D.C. never did, never could. In my short two years here, I’ve not just watched the revitalization but felt a personal investment in it. I’ve been proudly cheering it on. Attending ribbon cuttings for new businesses, frequenting new stores built out of old buildings, inviting friends to favorite restaurants, strolling from parklet to parklet, watching public art color the town… I’ve enjoyed the countless ways to celebrate my new home. Simply, I feel lucky to have landed here.
In this season of gratitude, when we are afforded the time to reflect on our lives, on lessons learned, and on the ways in which we wish to move forward, I’m glad that I landed here. I was given another chance to see a beloved city revitalize and this time, I’m paying attention.
Laura Menge is the Giving Strategies Officer for The Greater Cincinnati Foundation and has been a Renaissance Covington board member since 2015.