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The Road to CNU-32: Just Getting Started

In case you haven’t heard, we are going to have the annual Congress (CNU-32) right here in the Midwest, Cincinnati to be exact, and we are thrilled about it! For the next year and a half, we’ll bring you along through the process to give you a glimpse of what it takes to be a host of this amazing conference. We hope to not only give you a transparent view of the process, but also hope this will entice you to join us in volunteering or at the very least, having CNU-32 be your first Congress to attend.

Looking back to the beginning, a couple of longtime CNUer’s, Jeff Raser and John Yung, decided to take a stab at seeing if there were enough people interested in bringing the annual Congress to Cincinnati. What started with just two individuals rapidly grew to a gathering of almost 30 people. The people who are now a part of our local host committee come from all different backgrounds, some who are new to CNU. Also, while everyone has attended some type of professional conference, many, including myself, have not attended an annual Congress. With that in mind, we sought out how to showcase Cincinnati to not only the CNU National Board, but to new urbanists all over the nation.

Constructing a proposal submission is usually a fast paced endeavor. There are parameters that the submission must meet within a certain timeline. For most proposals, the end goal is an award for a monetary prize or a project. For us, the prize was so much more. The impact of hosting a Congress brings attention to not only Cincinnati, but to the greater Midwest. It invites new people to hear our stories, enjoy our views, and understand why we call this home. The goal of our submission was to tell the story of how great Cincinnati is. Of course, attendees will stay in our hotels, eat at our restaurants, and shop in our stores. Our hope is to show everyone such a great time that they want to come back to visit or maybe feel the pull to move here.

With that goal in mind, our committee saw the value in participating and was eager to volunteer to be a part of this process. We had many people on the committee so we split into groups to work on specific sections on the proposal. These sections, which would become our table of contents, included the Pitch, Tours List, Local Themes and Content, Free Programming, Local Host Committee, Fundraising Targets and Commitments, Local Media Targets, and Congress Legacy Project Partners. Of course, the biggest hurdle that we needed to overcome was fundraising. We needed to show the CNU National Board that we had the ability to raise the funds needed to host the Congress. Our fundraising group hit the ground running and by the time we submitted our proposal they had made a substantial dent in what we needed. Mind you they were able to do this in ONLY three weeks by tapping into everyone’s contact list through an intense effort of meetings, emails, and phone calls.

We worked tirelessly over three weeks to pull together a proposal with just the hope to be considered. With everyone so comfortable video conferencing these days, we met within our groups multiple times a week to make sure everyone was on the same page. The end product was a document that we are all very proud of. We submitted it and very quickly received notice that we were shortlisted. The only caveat was that the interview was only a few weeks away. While this is very common for interviews to take place right away, it was back to the drawing board to figure out how to “Wow” the National Board even further.

We were given the opportunity to give our interview remotely. We’ve all sat through our share of common video presentations, so we knew we had to create something different than the usual. We thought, what better way to “sell” our city than to take everyone around on a tour of Cincinnati? The founding partners of our committee, Jeff Raser and John Yung, led the presentation but many people from our committee participated as well. Our presentation was not conducted in a traditional office setting. On a beautiful early June evening, Jeff and John, brought their laptop to the rooftop bar at Rhinegeist Brewery to kick things off. I know that may seem like an odd place to host an interview, but we wanted to give the board a firsthand look at a potential venue for the Congress. We did not want to just show the board great pictures of our venues and neighborhoods, we wanted to take them there.

After brief introductions, Jeff and John handed off the “camera” to other committee members in different locations around the city. We had a person on the sidewalk at a busy neighborhood business district giving a quick history on the location and why it is important to the city. We had a person sitting in an urban park with children playing in the background telling a story of how the park was completely different 10 years ago. We had a person across the river in Covington, Kentucky showing how Cincinnati crosses the border showcasing our entire region. We had a person on a popular bike trail showing the impact of the trail on surrounding development. These are just a few of the many people we had set up around the city.

At the end of the presentation, all participants met back at the roof of Rhinegeist to celebrate what we thought was a successful interview. Luckily, we did not have to wait too long to find out that we won the bid to host CNU-32. While we were thrilled with the outcome we understood that now the real hard work starts. We are just getting started in our early stages of planning. We have gained more people to become a part of the host committee and have broken into different committees. At this stage we are taking a deeper dive in all the aspects that we briefly touched upon in the proposal.

We look forward to attending CNU-31 in Charlotte and acting as sponges to learn all we can from their host committee. Stay tuned as we plan for a great CNU-32!

Megan Karalambo is a current member of the CNU Midwest Board, an urban planning consultant and real estate investor. Megan has led numerous projects and brings over 15 years of experience in developing master planning and community development projects that are focused on improving our built environment.

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