Uniting to imagine next step for our city

THIS week, we are making history.

Between November 6 and November 10, 50 brilliant rising leaders from cities across the globe will converge in Newcastle to learn what happens when the people of a city come together with regional government to imagine new ways to thrive and compete in the global economy.

I am the chief executive, president and publisher of Next City, an American organisation with a mission to inspire change in cities through journalism and events.

You may know Next City from our website, NextCity.org, where we publish our award-winning reporting on urban innovation in US cities and around the world.

But as Newcastle will soon see, we are more than a website. The Next City Vanguard conference is an experiential leadership program that brings together inspiring young urban change-makers and this week, we are holding our first Vanguard Australia program.

It will be the first Next City conference held outside of North America, hosted by a local committee that includes representatives of the New South Wales government, Newcastle City Council, the University of Newcastle, Hunter Development Corporation, and Transport for New South Wales.

Newcastle lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes is another one of our generous hosts. She uses three adjectives to describe her city's future: smart, livable and sustainable.

It’s an aspiration undoubtedly familiar to anyone who has been paying attention to the turnaround efforts of older industrial cities worldwide. From Pittsburgh to Marseilles, France, cities are working to build cleaner economies and more livable neighborhoods.

The theme of the Vanguard Australia conference is sustainable, equitable and accountable reinvention. It is an idea at the heart of Next City’s mission to inspire better cities — and at the centre of ongoing global conversation about fighting climate change, growing inequality and other challenges of the 21st century.

At Next City, we always strive to ensure that our conferences lead to impact. With that in mind, this Vanguard conference will culminate in Newcastle’s first Big Idea Challenge.

A public design competition to be held at Watts Street Arc on Thursday evening, the Big Idea Challenge will be an opportunity for our Vanguards to compete to provide Newcastle with visionary adaptive reuse concepts for two dormant architecturally and culturally significant historic landmarks in the city center: the old Newcastle post office and the old Newcastle rail station.

As Novocastrians know, these two beautiful buildings hold the potential to be incredible destinations within a thriving city centre.

We are honored by the opportunity to participate in these historic revitalisation projects and want to hear from you about what you see for the future of these places.

Please connect with us on Twitter and Facebook under the handle @nextcityorg and look for the hashtag #VanguardOz to follow our trip. You can find me on Twitter at @TDallessio.  

Then again, we hear Newcastle is the kind of city where you tend to run into people you want to see. So if you encounter a group of smartish-looking folks taking in the city sights over the next few days, please don’t hesitate to say hello and fill us in on what you love about your city.

We are here to learn from you.

Tom Dallessio is the Next City chief executive, publisher and president