The urban renewal of Newcastle is frustrating to watch. It stops. It starts. Great organisations, such as Renew Newcastle, struggle for funding while white elephant projects bleed money from the public purse. The language is all wrong: heritage –v- development, the future –v- the past, economic growth –v- pride in our history. Development pressure seems to come from the top down, rather than from the bottom up via community engagement. More often than not Novocastrians find out that an important decision impacting on the city’s future has been made when they see the story on the front page of the Newcastle Herald.
It’s started again. This week the Newcastle Institute hosted a forum centred on the question ‘Can you have your heritage cake and eat it too?’ (It’s the wrong question). Another key player is Urban Growth, the State government organisation driving the transformation of NSW cities, who have just released their program ‘Revitalising Newcastle’.
There are two things causing me deep disquiet about the planned future for the West End and it’s coming from the major players. Firstly, the uncontested view which goes like this: Newcastle West = high rise. Diagram after diagram from the GPT Group and Urban Growth shows a disproportionate number of the city’s proposed high rise buildings are in our part of town. At the Newcastle Institute forum an architect and a real estate agent/property developer equated the East End with the city’s heritage and therefore understood the constraints on building there; whereas buildings could be both higher and more concentrated in the West End – which was deemed to be not a heritage area.
There are a wealth of heritage sites in the West End (here’s just some of them): Bank Corner, Cottage Creek, Birdwood Park, TAFE Hunter Street (including the Trades Hall building), Dairy Farmers Corner, Little Birdwood Park, the old Castlemaine Brewery, The Store and the old gasworks building (near Marketown).
Our very special heritage properties need to have sustainable businesses inside them, not just for them to be financially viable, but so they can come alive again.
How about Miss Porter’s House? This free standing Edwardian terrace remains Newcastle’s only National Trust listed property.
The second widespread assumption is that the West End will be the new CBD because the whole suburb needs to be re-developed, because it’s run down and derelict. Yes, it’s sad that there are still great buildings in the West End which have been bordered up and abandoned for far too long. But this doesn’t mean that the answer is to just rip them down and replace them with high rise. That’s a morally bankrupt, soulless solution. I do wonder how long it has been since many of these movers and shakers have taken a walk through the wild West End. Every week it seems like a new business opens, it’s the reason I can blog weekly about our favourite part of town and never run out of stories. This renewal has been going on for at least the last five years.
Retro-fitting and the adaptive re-use of West End properties are everywhere and those spaces are working well. Here’s an off-the-top-of-my-head list (there are many more): Bank Corner Cafe, cStudios Art Gallery, Parry Street Garage, Star Hotel, The Edwards, Hunter Design School, Balance Health Club, Eden Art Gallery and the Unorthodox House of Groove. The Parry Street cul-de-sac is a microcosm of urban renewal done right: enormous warehouse conversions, a transformed laundromat and some hole in the wall quirkiness.
Urban renewal is already happening in the West End and we all want it to continue. But the hard question is – what kind?
The GPT Group http://www.gpt.com.au
Urban Growth’s vision for Newcastle can be found on their website: http://www.urbangrowthnsw.com.au Specific mention of Newcastle West is at: http://yoursay.revitalisingnewcastle.com.au/city-centre-precincts
Urban Growth are holding three community engagement forums, details on their website http://yoursay.revitalisingnewcastle.com.au/register-for-a-community-forum
Have you chosen the West End as your home or as the perfect place to run your business? Do you have a West End tale which deserves a wider audience? What inspires and infuriates you about the West End? If you have a story to tell I would love to talk to you! Here’s how to find me: firstname.lastname@example.org; 0413 250 155.