Newcastle Next: When the future is now, poll

VIBRANT VISION: A development concept for a creative arts institute on the old bowling club site atop King Edward Park. Artwork: Jeff Julian

VIBRANT VISION: A development concept for a creative arts institute on the old bowling club site atop King Edward Park. Artwork: Jeff Julian

This week the Newcastle Herald highlights  the evolution of the city over three centuries. On Monday, our cover was a rendering from 200 years ago, Tuesday was the same scene 100 years later. Wednesday portrayed Newcastle as it is now and Today unveils a vision of the city in 100 years' time. The series is in conjunction with this week’s IDC Hunter Innovation Forum.

WHAT will Newcastle be in 100 years, when phrases like ‘‘city of the future’’ are no longer thrown around like pickles at King Street McDonald’s and suddenly have to mean something?

Good luck. A century ago, who could foresee the lives we live? With a hospital and university our main employers, with espressos and Twitter and swims at lunch, we’re past the comprehension of our sooty forefathers.

But let’s guess, you and me. The wronger we are, the more fun it’ll be for those who get to look back on ‘‘the twenty-tens’’ as we do ‘‘the nineteen-twenties’’.

We’ll be bigger. The veins of our city, says the Australian Urban Design Research Centre, will weave into one of three ‘‘megaregions’’ from Brisbane to Melbourne.

New City X3, they call it. Pretty name. Australia’s population is tipped to top 60million by then and the authors of Made In Australia see the space between Newcastle and, say, Bulahdelah shrinking until we’re one.

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But the authors – Professor Richard Weller and Dr Julian Bolleter – don’t think giant cities have to mean urban decay.

‘‘Dysfunctional, overcrowded cities are not in anyone’s best interests,’’ they write.

Newcastle, they say, will be linked to Sydney by a 20-minute rail journey. Novocastrians won’t be holding their breath. But let’s zoom in on our future town.

It’s harder to picture at street level. Newcastle, maybe, is one spoke in a Sydney-centric tube network. Every five minutes, stations on Hunter Street belch out office workers from Wollongong, Parramatta and the creaky, inadequate Williamtown aeropark. Some are just off the London-to-Newy red eye. It’s a brutal flight.

Supercharged by communication infrastructure we can’t imagine, companies and government departments don’t have to cluster in Sydney. They’re here. But what about us? 

Look closer. Our faces are different. Australia became a melting pot so gradually that opponents never got a word in edgewise. The streets of our (yes) bustling downtown, starting a block from the beach, feel more like those of a city in Asia.

The suburbs are a patchwork of villages with bars, cafes and high-rise apartments. More of us work from home, popping out to exercise or eat in our favourite Sudanese deli.

What kind of society are we? How you predict that will depend on your hopes and fears.

In one version we’re a privatised dystopia, where streets are blacked out and footpaths overgrown until someone stumps up the cash to fix them. Well. You didn’t want to pay rates.

In another, our parks and roads are maintained under Work For The Pension, devised to keep our elderly off the streets. Gives them something to do. By now, old means 130.

There might be 90,000 in to watch the Knight Riders (‘‘rider’’ is the town’s reminder, to the owners, that they can buy back the club). Or, rugby league might be dead. 

Maybe we’ve rejected sports altogether, except for the popular Ridiculous Fighting Championship. There’s a centre at Wests (which is its own suburb by now, complete with tube stop). Makes the Ultimate Fighting Championship look soft.

If you’re reading this in 2114 be kind, whatever we did to the place. We didn’t know better, and those of us who did weren’t persuasive enough.  Don’t picture us as backward, in silly clothes; just enjoy the beaches and the old buildings. Sorry we didn’t leave more.

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