CHRISTINA GERAKITEYS: Fresh line of thought can transform our city

IN our workshops, we often run a "Think Like a Traveller" exercise.

Close your eyes and think about the last time you travelled to a different country, state, city or even suburb.

You were expecting things to be different.

You were taking in your new surroundings (it's actually an in-built survival tactic).

Your eyes darted faster, you listened for the unfamiliar, and you were on alert.

Why? You had no preconceived ideas of what to expect.

On my recent travels to the US for the Front End Innovation Conference, I was the traveller.

I walked the High Line.

I visited Rahway Arts District.

I met the movers and the shakers of the creative industries.

Stay with me: This should tie in like a good Billy Connolly story.

Clayton M Christensen, who coined the phrase "disruptive innovation", co-authored The Innovator's DNA. It notes "five discovery skills that distinguish innovative entrepreneurs and executives from ordinary managers: associating, questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting".

When we travel, these five discovery skills are operational.

Here's how it can work.

Walking the High Line, I couldn't help but associate it with the truncation of the Newcastle rail.

I questioned the concept of the High Line, the "why" and "how" behind its construction.

Plants had grown wild in rail tracks unused for 25 years. People wanted to claim the line as public space, and much planning and designing resulted in the tourist attraction it is today. I observed people walking, talking, relaxing and sitting along the track.

All 2.33 kilometres of it.

More observation and association followed.

The Anzac Memorial Walk had recently opened. Being an inner-city dweller, I noticed the multitudes of people who were using the track early morning, late at night and all weekend. Why couldn't Newcastle become a walking town with our own version of the High Line, Anzac Memorial Walk, Fernleigh Track, Bathers Way and the already operating historical and architecture walks.

Next, a New Jersey networking opportunity, a two-hour conversation with Lawrence McCullough, executive director of the Union County Performing Arts Centre. He tells me he was on the founding committee of SXSW so I am automatically a fan.

Sidetrack to Tre Borden, a creative consultant based in Sacramento, California, who came to Newcastle from the Vivid Festival in early June.

Turns out Rahway and San Diego have similar projects.

Time for a bit more associating.

In the last half-century, cutbacks at some big San Diego firms radically reshaped its manufacturing sector.

Rahway was also centred on manufacturing. A post-World War II decline led to the closure of Rahway's major factories, which resulted in a disrupted CBD.

Any of this sounding familiar?

Rahway and San Diego are both constructing apartments for working artists - painters, musicians, dancers, actors.

They plan to lure them away from major centres like New York City (where cheap rents are $4000 a month) to fringe centres (Rahway is a 20-minute train ride away from NTC) to take up residency in subsidised apartments.

Rahway's apartment block will contain 60 units.

That's 60 singles, couples or families boosting the local economy.

So imagine Newcastle Railway Station as a series of studios, art centres, cafes and galleries. The rail line is transformed into a garden, with walking and bike tracks.

The old Store building is converted into apartments for artists, complementing the construction of NeW Space.

Finally, experimenting.

The best ideas require sharing, prototyping, testing and iterating.

It's in the connection of experiences that ideas (good and bad) happen.

That's why it pays to Think Like a Traveller.

Christina Gerakiteys is an adviser at The Business Centre, facilitator of the Rippler Effect Innovation Program and creative director of Ideation At Work

Comments