Communities

‘Knight Cities’ podcast: Bringing renewal to Newcastle (Australia)

While between projects in late 2007 and early 2008, Marcus Westbury, a maker, festival director and writer, was exploring his hometown of Newcastle, Australia, and found dozens of buildings and once-vibrant streets that “had fallen into disrepair and despair.” Today, however, Lonely Planet describes Newcastle as a city whose “time has finally come.”

Knight Cities podcast

Marcus’ new book, “Creating Cities,” tells the story of how Newcastle transformed. Here are five things you need to know from my conversation with Marcus about Renew Newcastle:

1. It is frustrating to get access to vacant buildings because of absentee landlords, owners who have given up on renting their properties, city bureaucracy and permitting, and other challenges.

2. There are many more people wanting to do something than there are vacant spaces. You just need to make it easy for people to use the space.

3. Renew Newcastle knocks on the doors of private property owners and convinces them to lend their property to the organization, which then lends them to creative people with creative ideas. Renew Newcastle takes on the insurance liability.

3. Renew Newcastle knocks on the doors of private property owners and convinces them to lend their property to the organization, which then lends them to creative people with creative ideas. Renew Newcastle takes on the insurance liability.

4. Don’t become too prescriptive, demanding that people produce three-year plans. Supporting people who are willing to experiment with open-ended ideas often means they will find a path to viability.

5. There is an intrinsic value to stimulating activity. But commercially viable businesses and other elements that are valuable to the community often emerge from the process.

Renew Newcastle has led to a broader movement, Renew Australia. Listen to my conversation with Marcus here. And sign up for the “Knight Cities” newsletter to get alerts as soon as new conversations are posted.

Look for new “Knight Cities” content posted every week. You can follow us on Twitter at #knightcities or @knightfdn. And if you have ideas for people you’d like to hear from, please email me.

Carol Coletta is vice president of community and national initiatives at Knight Foundation. Follow her on Twitter @ccoletta.

A gallery documenting Newcastle's transformation. Images courtesy of Renew Newcastle.

A gallery documenting Newcastle’s transformation. Images courtesy of Renew Newcastle.