Middle of the Road Kentucky

35 thoughts on “Middle of the Road Kentucky”

  1. Great post. However, I think it’s important to note that Bellevue’s downtown is only successful as an entertainment district. In a classic urban city, we’d have some department and grocery stores clustered in the core along with the entertainment options.

    That’s not really the case here. Instead, we see Kroger and Goodwill on the outskirts of town, with a GIANT parking lot connecting the developments.

    The reasons for that are obvious. It’s a car-dependent city, its strength its quick access to jobs throughout the Cincinnati area. Put the Kroger and Goodwill in that downtown and the resulting congestion would ruin everything. You’d either have to demolish a bunch of buildings for parking, or else the stores would fail.

    It’s great to have a “vibrant” downtown, but that’s only part of the puzzle. Great public transit within our country’s metros are what we need for real urbanism to emerge. Otherwise, our business districts will continue to be nothing more than entertainment hubs, and new urbanist developments will remain neutered for cars.

    1. This is only true if you accept it as a given that you need to have Kroger and Goodwill, and that you need to have them in their current physical forms regardless of where they’re located.

  2. Hey Johnny—this is an awesome piece. One of the best defenses of traditional urbanism that I’ve ever encountered. I run a project dedicated to making just this case at The American Conservative magazine, and would love to republish your article on our site and amplify its message further, if you would be amenable. My e-mail address is included in this form, twitter is @JonCoppage. Either way, I would love to talk.


  3. Great post! I especially appreciate your calling attention to the fact that the traditional way of building communities in America wasn’t a top-down, planned ideal of some coastal-elite-liberal-communists.

    I’m always baffled when people on the conservative side of the political spectrum think that rejecting the postwar auto-oriented development pattern, and returning to the tried and true, is somehow an evil leftist plot.

    Probably just the result of 2+ generations now growing up with the suburban development pattern, resulting in an inadequate frame of reference.

  4. I randomly stumbled on this post through /r/Kentucky on reddit. My family owns Witt’s End Candy Emporium pictured in the second photograph. Bellevue is a really nice area!

  5. Nice article. I give Bellevue leaders a decent amount of credit with the re-vitalization. I used to live in Ludlow, which is basically Bellevue’s western cousin in NKY. There are historical homes and businesses but a backwards city government more concerned with new police cars and padding their bloated salaries. There is so much potential with beautiful river views and downtown Cincy only 8 minutes away. But most of these businesses are vacant. There are too many non-owner occupied houses and not enough people in government who care. I really wish the people of Ludlow would see the potential in this city and vote out the current mayor and his political cronies.

  6. I grew up in neighboring Dayton
    My parents didn’t have to drive me around to after school events.we walked to school.i rode my bike down to the ball field for little league games.we had a wonderful swimming pool( Tacoma pool).we had Belmont lake to fish in.belmont woods to romp around in and the river.movies at the Marianne on the avenue in Bellevue.

    1. Yes I look around today and as a kid we had the pool and movies and the skating rink today all these thing are gone . So we were lucky back then . And we walked . The kids today there isn’t much

  7. Bellevue as my family’s home town leaves us natives a bit sensitive to the invasion of well meaning personalities. The main street is not ‘Main St’ but Fairfield Ave affectionately referred to as ‘The Avenue’ even by those claiming our revered neighborhood. Even a person taking up residence, complaining about the frequent church bell tolls which called the faithful traditional families to mass and funerals and the ironic/iconic reminder that time does move on. Shame on this person who chose to locate close to this church which served the community longer than her self serving presence. I will always value my years in Bellevue as I know my family and school friends will. Aside from your interest in architecture, each building houses stories and even legends of historical significance. Perhaps another photo journalistic endeavor. thank you for your wonderful essay

  8. Johnny,This site really updates my memories. THANKS—I was born in 1931 & lived in Bellevue,Ky.till the late 50’s.Moved to Claryville,Ky. till 1990 & then to Florida till now.I really enjoy seeing how many of the old sites & buildings still exist.Keep up the Great job.

  9. One more thought: my prediction is that a lot (not all) of inner suburbs, like Bellevue, that have managed to hang onto some urban fabric are going to do really, really well in the coming decades. They are exactly what a lot of people are looking for–good urbanism, good schools, a “small town quality of life” (despite being connected to metropolitan economies), good access to jobs, and without the absurd housing prices of Coastal Big City Glamorous America.

    1. I also believe small towns like Bellevue will be in demand moving forward. Being part of a larger region (Cincinnati, Covington, Newport, etc) is a plus not a minus. Both retiring Boomers and Millennials (once they start having children) will be attracted to such places that have the perfect balance of single family homes and walkable Main Street neighborhoods – all near jobs and culture. The losers will be the too-far-from-civilization never-even-had-a-center suburbs out on the metropolitan fringe.

  10. Cool essay and spot-on observations. The only thing I would add, which I think is important to point out, is that while Bellevue might have been built as a small town, it really isn’t that anymore. It’s a close-in suburb of Cincinnati, which is a city and a region where at least some people have an appreciation and appetite for urbanism. If it weren’t for the quirk of the river being the state line, Bellevue could have ended up as a pretty close-in city neighborhood. My strong suspicion is that if Bellevue were a freestanding small town located far from a large city, its urban fabric would have withered away long ago, unless there were some extenuating circumstances (a university, perhaps). The nearby suburbs on the Kentucky side of the Cincinnati, like Covington, also have some really strong, and reviving, urban fabric.

    1. You pretty much said what I did – in another world Bellevue would have been annexed into Covington and Covington would have been a larger city. Its a weird fluke that it didn’t happen that way. Northern Kentucky is a lot like a micro mini version of New Jersey in Hudson and Bergen Counties – areas that would have been part of NYC if it wasn’t for the state line getting in the way and as a result they developed much more similarly to New York than they did.

      Also, Bellevue is probably the most intact Victorian era urban neighborhood in the Cincy region, I don’t think this would have worked out if it wasn’t an independent town – it gives you a good idea of what much of Cincinnati used to be like before it got a more bombed out appearance due to disinvestment/poor policy of the last 50 years.

      You can literally see downtown Cincy from Bellevue and its only about a 10 min drive away. This would be an ideal place to have regular bus service, but alas the only bus that actually goes into Bellevue regularly (well at least every 15 mins instead of like once an hour) stops just short of the business district in one of the more car oriented parts of town. This really should be changed as this town pretty much has everything else an urbanist millennial who wants to settle down wants.

    2. Jake:

      One response to your comment, as perceptive as it is, is that Kentucky seemed to be quite successful as a whole in building very attractive small towns. I am thinking primarily of the Bluegrass region, which has the benefit of wealth associated with horses and tobacco, but these towns have somewhat retained their form and character. Of course, the pernicious impacts of WalMart are still there, but…

  11. Another great photo essay! One can talk about these issues, but it is so helpful to show visually the distinct difference between human-based development and car-based development. (I wonder if anyone can view the photos side by side and not wince at the images of gas stations and Arby’s.) I am reading “The Pattern Language” at the moment (a book which certainly has its opinions and quirks.) It also goes into depth about how scale–from buildings, to neighborhoods, all the way up to countries–impacts human political, psychological, social and economic interaction.

    I think it likely most post-WWII development in the US will replaced in the next half century in order to heal the terrible damage car-based development has inflicted on communities. It will either be turned into walkable neighborhoods/shopping districts or returned to farmland (maybe even wetlands or wilderness.) Sadly, some will be left to decay in ruins, a testament, I guess, to a cultural dead end.

  12. Thank you for taking the time to write and photograph my hometown. I grew up in the middle of town and it was a wonderful place to be a kid. There are two iconic businesses in Bellevue that you missed however. Schneider’s Sweet Shop has been providing home-made chocolates, candies, ice cream and ice balls to Bellevue residents and neighboring communities for over 75 years. Schneider’s is family owned and a great gathering place for family and friends in the summer evenings. Pasquale’s Pizza is another locally owned business that has served Bellevue since the early 1960s. Everyone in town has a story about a date, a party or a celebration that had at this gem of a pizza parlor. It’s a place where families go on Friday nights or where high school kids celebrate after the big game.

    Thanks for bringing back some childhood memories.

    1. I agree. I grew up in Bellevue, two house up from the stadium. On Friday and Saturday nights the place to be was walking “The Avenue”, eating at Pasquale’s, seeing a movie at the Marianne, and topping the night off with a treat from Schneiders. It was a wonderful place to grow up. I was very fortunate.

  13. I sooo enjoyed your article and photos of the town where my husband was born and raised. We have been back quite a few times with our children to show them this gem. I thought I would share my favorite pic I took in 2009 overlooking Bellevue to Cincy. How do I post a pic here? Thanks again.

  14. Bellevue is doing interesting things with the implementation of form-based codes…

    “Kroger was criticized by members of the board and a city councilman for not altering the plans enough following the rejection last November to better fit the city’s form-based code, which aims to produce more pedestrian-friendly developments, particularly along Donnermeyer which is dotted by more suburban-style development.”


    1. Apples and oranges, folks. A friend once told me about her plans to close in the front porch, saying “we would have another room!” I said, “yes, but you have plenty of rooms but you wouldn’t have even one porch!” We HAVE a perfectly fine gas station there on the “fill,” and one not too far away on the Avenue. What we would lose putting in another gas station would be a car wash. PLUS we’re TALKING about WALKING and downplaying automobiles, yes?

  15. Bellevue is a wonderful community, but once again, the block the Violin Company and the Art gallery I run, are treated as minimalist. The 700 block does exist, however many do not visit or know about it. Never a picture, in this article and so many others. Sad!!!

  16. Great photos, as usual–and your point about the new development along the riverfront is important and not often made. Thanks.

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