How boosting local creativity revitalized a struggling Australian city

The future of cities – particularly small to medium sized ones – is networked, niche, global and connected. For many, it is about finding ways of making small things work and connecting distinct, dynamic local initiative, creativity and entrepreneurship.

In 2008, a project was launched called Renew Newcastle in Newcastle, Australia; about two hours’ drive from Sydney. It’s a former steel and current coal town that had lost 20,000 jobs as the steel industry closed and other associated industries went with it. At the time there were more than 150 visibly empty shops and offices on the main streets.

Today, the vacancies have plummeted. Renew Newcastle itself has helped start 170 new community projects and creative small businesses. We have reopened more than 70 properties. New cafes, restaurants and businesses have moved in and reactivated a once failing city street. A whole new story has emerged.

In 2011, Lonely Planet named Newcastle one of the top 10 cities in the world to visit. Today, Newcastle features in travel magazine features and strange lists of the world’s hippest cities.

It is not perfect, but it has a growing, diverse and resilient local economy that has grown from our experiment.

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