'Renew Newcastle' takes on the world


Four years ago, boarded up shops and empty streets marked the centre of Newcastle in NSW. But an urban regeneration project has proved so successful it is being picked up around Australia, and worldwide.

Four years ago, boarded up shops and empty streets marked the centre of Newcastle in NSW.

Now, the city is bustling with art galleries and cafes - the result of a project that's inspired similar schemes across the country.

The idea has been so successful, it's also being picked up around the world.

Inside her shared shop, Angela Hailey is able to create and sell her jewellery in a public space.

Three artists, all with young children, share the store, which they got off the ground via the Renew Newcastle scheme which promotes little or no rent for creative projects.

"I think it's done a genuine service to the city of Newcastle but it has also been of benefit to landlords, and obviously to the artists", Angela says.

While landlords get their otherwise vacant properties showcased, creative tenants like Angela get a useful boost.

"There's also an average income of eleven thousand dollars a year that artists have to aspire to."

When the heavy industry that once dominated this port city began to dwindle, so did the centre of the once proud city.

Step in Marcus Westbury's Renew Newcastle project in 2008

"It seemed to me there were plenty of people who had interesting ideas, people who wanted to use them", Westbury says of the vacant spaces.

"But for whatever practical reasons they weren't able to get hold of them."

With help from the state government and city council, creatives can "borrow" derelict space in the short term.

People are picking up on the idea from Toronto to Copenhagen - while Westbury is now fronting a growing "Renew Australia" project.

It's also making waves closer to home via schemes directly inspired by the one on the Hunter - like at Pop up Parramatta in Western Sydney.

At the African Village Market, ten women from across the continent have benefited from a council-assisted plan to rejuvenate a mall.

Setting up home in Australia after fleeing tribal conflict in Kenya, Rosemary Kariuki says the mall only had shops in a fraction of its spaces

"Oh my god - I remember that's what I said, because it was only a quarter (full) - and the shops didn't even have things."

Added to the textiles, jewellery and art, they also set up a hair salon via the scheme.

The downside for them - when the landlord found a paying tenant, they had to move a few stores along.

But by then, they were able to afford commercial rates.

Back in Newcastle, the team is filling an old David Jones store with new tenants.

And as ever, the projects are feeding off the city's artistic edge

"It's gathered together a whole load of creative artists and given them a reason to stay in Newcastle and not move on", one young woman painting her new store tells me of her scheme.

And that's a clear plus a model for a city that now finds itself a model, for others.

Source SBS

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