AS someone who’s only lived in this city for 18 months, I haven’t witnessed how the city has changed for better or worse like many of my colleagues.
I still get lost in inner-city suburbs and don’t have intricate knowledge of much of the city’s history – though I was working as a cadet in Newcastle in 1994 when the second earthquake struck in Ellalong, I just didn’t feel the earth move beneath my seat in a city cinema.
I’m probably not as jaded as those who have heard successive state governments promise they’ll move heaven and earth to revitalise the city centre.
But as a city worker and city resident – and one who is so centrally located I can’t get a residential parking permit, but don’t get me started on that – that doesn’t mean I don’t despair about how the CBD has gone to rack and ruin and don’t wonder when things will finally start rolling.
The glorious images of a thriving Hunter Street in my learned colleague Greg Ray’s books on the town are a painful reminder of what has been and what could still be.
But amid all the depressing talk about what hasn’t been done, it’s important to consider what is happening behind the scenes, and often on a smaller scale.
From public organisations and private groups to residents imbued with a sense of place and civic pride who are simply cleaning up their patch, good things are happening and they are worth noting.
The first batch of Renew Newcastle graduates are mostly now running thriving commercial operations, a bunch of 20 and 30-something groovers who have the talent to work wherever they want in the world – and some have – but choose to work their magic in Newcastle, all adding to the value of the creative economy.
There’s new blood at Newcastle Now, with entrepreneur Michael Neilson all het up about placemaking and bringing Village Well, the people that put the mojo back into key Melbourne and Sydney hot spots, into town.
The newly formed Hunter DiGiT taskforce is working to put the Hunter on the map as a leading digital regional economy with a global reputation by 2020, and it’s being driven by the likes of Brendan Brooks, Steph Hinds, Gordon Whitehead and Craig Wilson – people who are in business and know what needs to be done to make many sectors more efficient.
Nouveaux nosheries like Restaurant Mason, Le Petit Deux, The Landing and Subo are bringing food currency to town, with hatted establishments here cutting it with their sizzling Sydney and Melburnian counterparts. City residents, from the East to West End in particular, are getting behind small projects to just make the place look better. From mounting sculptures and building community gardens raided daily by city chefs, to applying for grants to widen footpaths and cleaning up parks – it’s all helping.
At the bigger end of town, business folk including Keith Stronach and Jerry Schwartz, armed with can-do and cash-flow, are pushing ahead with commercial projects and doing their best not to let the red-tape brigade dull their visions for the town.
Hunter Development Corporation chairman and Infrastructure NSW chief Paul Broad no doubt admires them, given his colourful spray at last week’s Australian Property Council Hunter Chapter luncheon.
He preceded his wide-ranging soliloquy on the strengths and infrastructure priorities of the Hunter Region with mutterings about his disdain for time-wasting pollies of all creeds.
Whether or not he agrees with our lord mayor’s move to create another layer of bureaucracy in forming a special taskforce of Hunter businessmen to cast their collective eyes over council finances is another matter.
As for the rail line, while I get the views of the naysayers and progressives, actions will always speak louder than words.
And when all is said and done, it’s easy to despair but easier to support the doers.