One of these days, I have to find the time to spend a weekend in Newcastle with camera and map, just walking the streets. I make this point because the collapse of the GPT deal that would, in theory at least, have revitalised the Newcastle CBD has led to some very conflicting comments.
The impact of change and especially the continued growth of large shopping centres on central town areas within New England has been quite profound, from the Newcastle CBD to the Armidale mall to Lismore. At a personal level, I find the shopping malls quite useful, but I really don't like them. They transform variety into a standardised pap that is the same wherever you go.
I suppose that I have become something of a passionate supporter of Newcastle revitalisation. I have never lived in the city, just visited over a long period. Yet it has been important enough to me during that time to want to see it emerge from the shadows that have so often surrounded it as a distinct entity in its own right.
Now someone from Newcastle might say, rightly, that of course it's a distinct entity. I would fully accept that criticism. My point is that nobody outside Newcastle really knows that it is!
When I look at the comments on the Newcastle CBD revitalisation, I am struck by just how inward looking they are. To be fair, I have applied the same criticism to other New England centres such as Maitland or Armidale. We all suffer from border myopia.
Accepting that I do not have the detailed knowledge of Newcastle that I should and that I am writing as a sympathetic outsider, I would make just three points about Newcastle CBD revitalisation.
First, Newcastle is, or is not, a a centre in its own right. To my mind it is, a place with a distinct history and culture. I know this because I research and write about it. If it is, then there needs to be an overall Newcastle strategy that builds upon Newcastle's special features. This then provides a context for CBD revitalisation.
Secondly, if people won't immediately come as visitors to the CBD, then you need to bring them as residents. My feeling is that central Newcastle potentially provides a rather wonderful urban living environment. If I'm right, you don't necessarily need a grand plan for urban revitalisation, simply a planning environment that encourages inner city living. Get people, and vibrancy follows.
Thirdly, while there is nothing necessarily wrong with grand plans such as that put forward by GPT, a lot of the best development comes from organic, incremental, growth. Start small, and let the flowers bloom.
Here I noticed the way in which light vs heavy rail became a show stopper. Now my personal view is that Newcastle should be cautious about getting rid of heavy rail because once it's gone, you can't get it back. I am also influenced by what I see as a fact, that once people from Sydney or other places have to change trains, you lose people.
In my vision of Newcastle CBD, I see loaded trains unloading people in the city centre so that they can enjoy the essential city. I don't see people doing this when they have to drag their luggage from one station to another, then try to fit their luggage into light rail designed for city computers.
Maybe I'm wrong. I am an outsider. What do you think?