When the CBD heads for the sea

While it would be foolish to slavishly imitate ideas from other cities, we can certainly look elsewhere for inspiration.

For instance, Newcastle is kicking a lot of goals as it works to reposition the Steel City as a world-class, harbour-front destination.

One of its biggest challenges – one we well understand in Canberra – is to reconnect the city centre with its waterfront.

The previously industrial waterfront is separated from the CBD by a rail line, in much the same way Parkes Way is a barrier between Civic and the lake.

In a transformation that will establish a new city edge, a procession of public plazas will take pedestrians from the heart of Newcastle’s city through to the harbour. Active recreation and leisure spaces – from a skate plaza to a water maze, splash pad to urban installations – will attract the young and young-at-heart.

Novacastrians are keen on the construction of a new urban icon – which they hope will rival Hobart’s MONA as a tourist attraction. Conversations are well underway to establish a new National Indigenous Cultural Institute with the ambition to house the largest collection of indigenous Australian art and artefacts anywhere in the world.

While a survey of Canberra residents this year found a new national attraction in the city centre is not needed, there is a strong appetite for a new national convention centre.

Another excellent project being driven by Renew Newcastle is finding homes for artists, cultural projects and community groups in buildings that would otherwise lie empty.

The ground floor of the former David Jones building – the city’s most iconic retail location – has become a treasure trove of boutiques.

Targeting distinct precincts as the building blocks for revitalisation is a smart strategy. Large-scale urban renewal can’t happen all at once – but the people of Newcastle have a vision for their city, which they hope will position it as Australia’s first regional city.

And that means, Canberra, we’ve got competition.

First published in CityNews, 17 November 2015.