But first, I want to tell you how this came about…and why it took so long to get here today.
I am actually based out of the (ridiculously sunny) Sacramento, CA area, but I am familiar with Columbus. I started out my career working at the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission in Dayton, OH. My wife (then girlfriend) attended graduate school at OSU for City Planning, and I used to visit nearly every weekend. We both loved Columbus, but she landed a great job out here and we decided to give California a try. We had enough with ice scrapers.
Fast forward several years, and I created a Facebook page related to Walkable Neighborhoods. The page was taking off, and I noticed that our #2 fanbase behind LA was Columbus.
At the same, I was kicking around an idea in my brain I’ve had for a long time: I really wanted to host a walkability conference. Some of you have been following Walkable Neighborhoods since 2005, and I thought a conference would be a great way to connect and learn from each other and people that have been doing this for a long time.
I remember I was having a particularly bad day in January. One of those types of days where you just want to go out and do something crazy because you just don’t care.
So, I did what any other irrational person would do in that state of mind, and I said, screw it, I’m going to ask the Facebook fans if they’d be interested in attending a conference in Columbus!! (I guess I really wanted to see my Ohio friends that day )
I just had a hunch from watching the posts on Facebook that folks in Columbus were going to be really interested. And boy, were you ever!
According to Facebook, my posts announcing the Columbus conference were viewed over 250,000 times. Yes, 250,000. By count today, over 1,300 joined the conference email launch list. And over 1,800 folks within the city limits of Columbus alone have joined the Facebook page.
I had a good feeling that the demand was there. Now it was time to find a walkable venue in Columbus. It took a lot of back and forth with folks, but I finally found a venue I was comfortable with, and the dates that would allow me to attend my fantasy football draft IN PERSON with my friends in Dayton!! I even had a keynote speaker all set to come. I was literally a couple of days away from signing contracts for the venue and speaker.
Then, I get a jaw-dropper of an email. It said that another conference with very similar topics was being planned in Cbus for September 2014. There was already substantial support, dates and venue were set, and speakers were coming together. But the email did say that he’d like to speak and look into collaboration.
Still, I have to admit I was crushed. I had promised all of you that I was bringing a conference to Columbus, and now that was in jeopardy. And so was my fantasy football draft attendance
I knew that it would be hard to get folks out to two conferences, and if the other hosts were not interested in partnering, it could be the end for this year.
But after a long phone conversation with Matt Shad (whom many of you know) that weekend, we were both convinced that we had to work together. There was so much synergy between our two efforts that it made perfect sense to combine efforts. It took a few weeks of back and forth of trying to get everything solidified, but I think it was well worth it.
And so here we are today, announcing the 2014 Great Placemakers Lab, September 16-19 at the Westin Columbus Hotel in Downtown Columbus. The event will be jointly presented by the German Village Society and Walkable Neighborhoods.
Now, we don’t have every last detail worked out yet, but the Lab is planning to go a bit like this:
- Tuesday, September 16 – Welcome Reception & Keynote Speaker
- Wednesday, September 17 – Track-based conference seminars and workshops
- Thursday, September 18 – A day out on tours of Columbus neighborhoods!!
- Friday, September 19 – A Walkability Summit
One thing that I’m really excited about for Friday is that the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) is organizing two audits where participants will walk around downtown Columbus…blindfolded!!
MORPC has (safely) led these tours in the past and they really help folks get a small sense of what it’s like to not be able to see and navigate a city. You can “sense” if downtown lives up to the challenge.
On top of this, we’re going to do some incredible tours and bring in some of the top experts in placemaking and walkability.
Best of all, most, if not all of the workshops will be included as part of the registration fee!! Don’t think that I can’t see that you just started dancing.
Space is going to be extremely limited on some of the workshops so it’s important you register quickly. The tours will be first come, first serve. So, make sure you go register now to make sure you get on these tours.
As I mentioned, we have thousands of people within the city of Columbus alone on our lists (which people opted to join), so our roughly 250 spots for the conference could go very quickly.
And now I’ll leave you with a classic line from a song by The Happenings: See you in September!!