Eyes opened to possible visions

The Transforming Newcastle Taskforce is a local industry brains trust with the job of responding to the opportunities that UrbanGrowth NSW has identified for the city centre's revitalisation.

All the relevant professional disciplines are represented, from urban design to geotechnical engineering, and from environmental sustainability to development finance.

They will produce the industry submission to the government - one that is ambitious, aspirational and grounded in world's best practice.

Their work will be informed by the learnings and experiences of taskforce members after a recent study tour of the US.

They were given access to newly built environments and urban transformation projects which have fundamentally changed the way people live.

And they met the community leaders, city officials and private developers who made those projects happen.

In Chicago, the US's third largest city, they learnt how the community solved the problem of a huge parcel of post-industrial railway land that divided their foreshore from the city centre.

Where there was once heavy railway operations, there is now Millennium Park. It is a truly magical place - a combination of green space, gardens, open-air art gallery, kids' playground, water feature, events space and concert venue, which now provides a living bridge between the city and its waterfront.

The private sector response?

Millennium Park is now surrounded by a combination of heritage buildings put to new uses, contemporary mixed-use developments and thoughtfully designed residential towers.

And consistently, year on year, Millennium Park pays the city and its people huge social and economic dividends - including an annual tourism bonanza worth $1.2 billion.

All of this is possible for Newcastle.

Eleven kilometres to the west of the city centre is "The 606". Once an obsolete rail corridor, it now brings together arts, history, design, trails for bikers, runners, and walkers, event spaces, alternative transportation avenues, and green, open space. But mostly, it brings people together. And that creates demand for new services which leads to new housing and employment opportunities. All of this is possible for Newcastle.

On Manhattan's West Side, you can't help but be impressed by Hudson River Park, the longest waterfront park in the United States.

Fifteen years ago, it was a long stretch of contaminated industrial land. Today, it is an urban recreational paradise.

Last year, there were 17 million visits to its children's play areas, skate park, dog parks, restaurants, niche retailers and art installations.

All of this is possible for Newcastle. Atlanta has the Beltline the most wide-ranging urban redevelopment program now under way in the United States. It represents the sustainable transformation of a 35-kilometre obsolete railway corridor into a network of pedestrian friendly rail transit, multi-use trails and public parks. Ultimately, it will supply 6000 units of affordable housing and has put Atlanta on a pathway to economic growth and sustainability.

With less than 10 per cent completed, the Beltline is paying the city a return on investment of 10:1. It has created more than 5000 permanent jobs and attracted the global corporate headquarters of tech-focused companies like Twitter.

Why?

Because Atlanta is now a competitive city where people want to live. The design means Atlantans can find housing close to their jobs.

And if not, they can find housing close to a rapid transit network that will deliver them to their jobs.

All of this is possible for Newcastle.

It goes without saying that Newcastle doesn't have the scale or population of Chicago, New York and Atlanta.

But Newcastle has no less potential.

For decades, our heavy rail corridor has been underused, leaking value and scaring away capital.

It has offered the promise of something new and never been able to deliver on the potential.

But right now is our big chance. Right now we have a generational opportunity to dream big, get the design right and create a competitive, world-class regional city with unrivalled liveability.