Friday, December 17, 2010

Re-imagining Newcastle - and the North

In Wednesday Forum: Re-imagining Newcastle, I posed this question:

To help you here, assume that there is suddenly a New England state. Newcastle as the biggest city, bigger still if we include the surrounding urban areas, suddenly has an opportunity to carve out a new and independent role free of previous constraints. What would you advise?

I then asked a set of further questions intended to stimulate discussion. In response, Greg said:

Hi Jim,
I have been trying to think of a response to this post, but it is a tough one. Newcastle has all the essential elements of a truly interesting and great city, but is stuck in a 1950's time warp that it can't escape from.

Consider this. In 1950 Brisbane, Perth and Newcastle were similar in size. Brisbane had a metropolitan population of about 440,000 people, Perth 340,000 and Newcastle 300,000. Just 60 years on and Brisbane (1.9m) and Perth (1.6m) have powered ahead in size and relative importance. Newcastle (1/2 m) has languished and been left in their wake - still an "overgrown country town".

Newcastle's relative decline mirrors that of the entire Northern NSW compared to Qld and WA. Newcastle is northern NSW in microcosm.

How do Newcastle and Northern NSW break out of this rut? Short of self-government I really don't know. I believe that self-government would of itself be a catalyst for change in the way others see us and the way we see ourselves. The tangible benefits would inevitably follow.

Greg's comment draws out the scale of the decline in Newcastle's importance. In response, I wrote:

I agree with you re self-government. In the meantime, and as part of our push for self-government, we have to get people to focus on the needs of Northern NSW as a unit and in terms of individual areas. We can use the push for self-government as a way of doing this.

One might argue that this threatens our longer term objective. The more we get, the lower the demand for self-government. I don't see it this way. I just don't believe that Sydney can reconcile the conflicts involved in governing an entity that no longer makes any form of sense.

Re-imagining the North is hard. But in doing so, we achieve a number of things. We get New Englanders to again think of themselves as a unit. We force Sydney responses. And we start to lay down a platform - a set of ideas - that our own Government can implement.

As Greg found, as I have found, it is not easy to imagine what might be when what is imposes seemingly impossible constraints. Yet we need to do this if we are to force change.

In my next post I will risk my hand by painting a vision of Newcastle's future. It is a risk because I do not live there, do not pretend to be an expert on on-ground conditions. 

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