“Creating Cities” is essential reading for urban planning and Parramatta symposium

Renew Newc - Creating-citiesUrban planning, or a lack of it, affects all of us who live in or around cities. The sprawl of western Sydney is the consequence of many different planning theories, community demands and economic pressures, particularly since the end of World War ll. All too often there has been an expectation of a silver bullet that will solve all problems. Just in time for the Fleet Street Heritage Precinct Symposium, on October 12, comes an excellent new book that should be essential preliminary reading. The symposium is organised by the North Parramatta Residents Action Group, supported by the National Trust and Parramatta Female Factory Friends. NPRAG was formed following an outcry from the community against proposals by UrbanGrowth NSW to create a new high rise suburb of up to 4000  apartments in a heritage precinct in North Parramatta. The symposium is intended to develop an alternative vision and viable economic model for the nationally significant site and to provide the community consultation that was conducted in name only by UGNSW. Organisers believe the site has the ability to be a world class cultural, educational and active tourism precinct that will provide ongoing benefit for the communities and businesses of Parramatta and the region.

MarcusWESTBURY_RENEWNEWCASTLE_WEBCreating Cities is written by founder of Renew Newcastle, Marcus Westbury, right. His efforts to restore vitality to the dying centre of his former home town in collaboration with lots of other people have been attracting attention since they first came to public notice in 2008. Creating Cities is a publication of less than 200 pages which has distilled the experience of the last seven years into a small handbook – or what he calls ‘a strategy for the small’. Naturally, the circumstances in Newcastle and North Parramatta – as anywhere else – are different, but there is much to be learned from his open and flexible thinking and the structures developed. Renew Newcastle is “an exercise in creating fertile ground”, he says.

His philosophy can strike a chord with many who have been working in arts and cultural development across western Sydney for many years. “Ingenuity and desperation can be the best form of innovation,” Marcus writes. Renew Newcastle has never been an exercise in attracting the “creative class”, he says, nor an exercise in rebranding Newcastle as a “creative city”. Least of all has it been a billion dollar attempt at becoming the new Bilbao. “Renew is a case study about the value of looking inward. Newcastle has changed not by attracting new and cool people to it, but largely from bringing out the talents and the capabilities of the people who were already there. In that sense it is not unique.”

1-IMG_4065He describes his assumptions when he first considered activation of neglected and empty buildings of Newcastle’s CBD – the negative role of “greedy developers”, the importance of government and bureaucracies in making things work. Everything proved more nuanced than he expected. He had no money and found little engagement from the top, but to his surprise, a Renew Newcastle Facebook page was attracting a lot of followers. His story goes from there. Even UrbanGrowth NSW has proved to be an ally instead of the unyielding behemoth of the North Parramatta experience, above left, to date. Gradually, a management structure of a non-profit company limited by guarantee evolved under which small projects with little initial money could develop. As a cultural organisation, Renew Newcastle is a tax deductible gift recipient.

Under its umbrella, and with continuous experimentation, Renew Newcastle is a business incubator and a community scheme, an arts initiative and one for economic development, and it is a strategy for young and old. While it may be fostering the creation of cottage-style unique products, it is using the connectivity of 21st century technology to market and distribute them, to exchange ideas and develop collaborations .As a result of the city’s revival, Newcastle found itself listed in Lonely Planet’s annual guide to “the top 10 countries, regions and cities to visit in 2011” in the world.

1-IMG_4059There are many buildings or open spaces on the Cumberland Hospital site in North Parramatta (or the Fleet Street Heritage Precinct), which are under utilised or neglected, pictured. With a little imagination, a flexible management structure and modest funds, they could provide accommodation for a whole range of creative activities.

You are invited to take part in the Fleet Street Heritage Precinct Symposium, Monday, October 12, Parramatta Leagues Club auditorium, 13 – 15 O’Connell St, Parramatta. Bookings and information, click here. Discuss case studies of successful business models in other areas and participate in workshops to help formulate “better ideas, better community and better business”.

Guests Include:

Brian Powyer, National Trust – Keynote speaker presenting paper on Heritage Tourism, Professor Peter Phibbs, Social Economist (Sydney University) – Keynote speaker,           Dr Cameron Logan, Director of Heritage Conservation (Sydney University) – Panelist, Charlotte Allen, Co Deputy Chair Abbotsford Convent, Victoria –  Case Study Presentation

Abbotsford ConventAbbotsford Convent, right, is another fine example of a community managed creative precinct. It was established in 1863 on land overlooking the Yarra River about four kilometres from the centre of Melbourne, Victoria. It continued operating as a charitable home for women and children until it was sold in 1975. When threatened by massive residential development, a seven year community campaign to save the convent was finally successful in 2004. The goal was to transform the site into an arts, educational, cultural and tourist precinct for the community. Eleven years later, more than 60% of the buildings have been restored and hundreds of tenants fill studio and office spaces. The venues are filled with performances, workshops, rehearsals, conferences and meetings and an extensive program of events is staged throughout the year.

There is no shortage of ideas and models for the future of the North Parramatta heritage precinct. Use “North Parramatta” to search the blog for more background to this story and see you at the symposium on October 12. Click Creating Cities to purchase the book. Renew Newcastle was the inspiration for Pop-up Parramatta. Check the website to copy Renew Newcastle’s model.


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