Saturday, June 7, 2003

In Covington

Gay influx good for the 'hood


Attention, cool people - you with the high-tech businesses, the architecture firms, the indie record labels and multiple piercings.

Forget about Austin. Say goodbye to Seattle. You want to live in Covington, Ky., the next big thing in vibrant inner cities.

Why Covington? Because its commissioners, with lots of citizen support, recently banned discrimination against gay people.

Frank Caliguri was among those who fought for the cause. A printing-company owner who left Covington for the suburbs, Caliguri witnessed the heartfelt speeches in favor of expanding the city's human-rights ordinance.

"I thought, 'Geez, this is just wonderful,' " says Caliguri, who is gay. "I miss those people, so I'm seriously considering moving back."

Urban pioneers

Such moves can only be good for the city.

This is partly because gay people are among our most reliable urban pioneers, able to see potential where others see a lost cause. They already live outside the box, so thinking that way is not a stretch.

Caliguri has made his own creative contribution in Covington: Some 10 years ago, he helped to lead a fund-raising effort for the struggling Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center. Once barely able to keep its lights on, it now has a paid staff, expanded space and loyal followers.

Other examples:

Developer David Herriman took a chance on Covington's derelict riverfront years ago, building the luxury condos that helped spark other projects.

Jim Moll has been a constant presence in Over-the-Rhine, developing 17 properties and now, through a company called Jim Moll Is Leasing, is helping others attract tenants to downtown spaces.

And in North Avondale, John Angelo was president of the neighborhood association when he convinced the city to shut down a notorious crack house. Then he arranged financing and volunteers for a $250,000 renovation.

"When you make it uncomfortable for homosexuals to be in your community," Angelo says, "then you lose that creative potential."

Straight people, too

Richard Florida would agree. He's the Carnegie Mellon professor whose book, The Rise of the Creative Class, is often quoted by inner-city boosters.

Florida's creative class is composed of scientists, engineers, artists, musicians, designers, architects and the like. These folks, whose presence is important for economic growth, are drawn to open communities. They may be straight, but they want to live where gay people are welcome.

Florida and colleague Gary Gates used census data to develop a "Gay Index," ranking cities based on their gay populations. Those with more homosexuals also had more high-tech industry and larger creative classes, they found.

With its vote on human rights, Covington has sent a powerful message to the people most likely to push it ahead.

Maybe someday, Cincinnati will catch up. or 859-578-5584.

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