Newcastle, NSW, Australia is a mid-sized, coastal city. We used to be a dirty-sky, steel-making and ship building city. We are still the biggest coal-exporting port in the world but we have re-imagined ourselves into a creative hub with high achieving researchers, small hi-tech industries and a reputation for working hard at sustainability.
With seven city beaches we are surrounded by lake and river systems and a hinterland rich in vineyards, agriculture, horse studs –and, of course, coal and power generation.
Our worst problem this summer has been the fact that our beaches were closed in the holiday period when sharks followed the bait fish close to shore.
So why invest in a future as a “smart” city?
We are a city forced into industry transition. When steelmaking ended we were no longer a city of dirty heavy industry and large corporate headquarters. We had a fabulous lifestyle but empty shops, high unemployment and dissatisfied citizenry. An earthquake in the late 1980’s topped off a couple of bad decades.
In the SCEWC Barcelona 2014, we found that if we can learn from your experiences and successes, we can build a very smart future in Newcastle
But our strong industrial roots and a history of local activism have left a legacy of working together when crisis or a big project happens.
So, the Government invested more than $100 million dollars to clean up the waterfront, build new roads and develop sites for commerce and residential use. The city council began a program of infrastructure upgrades and social support.
The business association, Newcastle NOW, for its part, worked hard to clean up the graffiti, and to help resolve late night violence, fund place making, public art and entertainment, to provide new lighting, rejuvenate run-down parks, get free public transport, build bus shelters, spend money on marketing and support the arts community to set up in the empty shops.
Our city is a wonderful place to live, but it remains a regional city with all the issues of lack of opportunity and resources. Our program Newcastle NEXT aims to fix that.
We will do it differently from the big European cities. Our impetus comes from individuals and small organizations. For some years, Newcastle NOW has supported creative and digital businesses and events. Then just over a year ago, we were asked by a small company (Vimoc Technology) to support a pilot project to install sensors in one of our retail precincts. We started to read about smart cities, entered into a University research partnership and went to the Smart City Expo & World Congress Barcelona 2014.
We will do it differently from the big European cities. Our impetus comes from individuals and small organizations
Since then we have moved quickly. A city project team, led by Newcastle NOW, was set up with members including the city council, state government and business. We are already making plans and undertaking feasibility studies with advice from global companies and our national broadband network.
The Australian context is very different to the cities we see overseas. But our people are much the same. They want the same things. They worry about the same things. And, like people all over the world, they want to be happy and have good health, a secure job, and life in a safe and pleasant environment.
In Barcelona, we found that if we can learn from your experiences and successes, we can build a very smart future in Newcastle.
To show you the size of our task, let me share two paintings of our city by the American artist and futurist, Jeff Julian. Jeff, drawing on pictures from time of British colonization, shows how our waterway looked in 1788. Using current photography by xRes Studios, Jeff then overlaid a series of visions of how our city might look in 100 years – in 2100. Those images, set 300 years apart, show us that change does and can happen. And that if it is to happen, we have to be clear about what we want. We need to be ‘smart’ ourselves. And we have to work hard.
The Australian context is very different to the cities we see overseas. But our people are much the same
By this time in 2016, we hope to be able to report that Newcastle has a 10-year, digital transformation plan – funded and happening, with the support of all our major stakeholders and our community.
Senior Research Officer at ARC Creative Industries Project, The University of Newcastle (Australia)