Newcastle is a city with unsurpassed potential, and it is now the people of Newcastle who must decide if they are willing to take the leap and create a vibrant, bustling city of the future, or letting it stagnate.

Over the past 10 years the city’s culture has evolved, slowly developing into a hub of creativity and innovation. It is a process that must be embraced and supported if Newcastle is to truly shake off the ‘steel city’ identity and move into a phase of renewal and rebirth.

When I came to be Mayor of Pittsburgh in 1994 the city was still reeling from changes in the steel industry that began in the early 1980s. City finances were in a sorry state, with a $US32 million deficit, and there was no serious plan for an economic turnaround. Younger, college-educated workers were leaving in droves, and older residents were pessimistic about the region’s future.

As Mayor, it was my job to see what the city could be, not what it was. After three terms in office Pittsburgh was in significant transformation. As part of the economic revitalisation plan, more than $US4 billion in new investment was directed into the city. This included office towers for two of the city’s nationally ranked banks, new world-class facilities for the city’s professional football and baseball teams, and an expanded downtown convention centre.

The parallels between Newcastle in the present, and Pittsburgh in the mid 90s are considerable. Pittsburgh was able to replace its ‘steel city’ tag for one that was focused on the future, attracting venture capital and realising the potential of the city.

Newcastle has the opportunity to invest in the talent of its own people to begin the same transformation. The university of Newcastle has 39,131 students. This is almost 40,000 people who have the potential to help shape the vision for the city.

Smart cities invest in talent and Universities can be the key to transforming a city. The NeWSpace project offers Newcastle CBD the ‘wow factor’, with its interesting design and ability to inject $95 million into the local economy. A stronger local economy and plentiful opportunities for growth and innovation will ensure the best and brightest teachers, researchers, academics and graduates stay right here and continue to develop the city.

NeWSpace will also shape how Newcastle is viewed globally, through the role it will play in leading the transformation of the city into a more walkable, cyclable, livable city.

With the current focus on the planning failures of the city, there exists a unique opportunity to reimagine the city and how the people of Newcastle want to engage with their surrounds. In New York City, 50 per cent of people do not own a car. Increasingly they are cycling and taking public transport to move around.

Now is the time to imagine your city in a different kind of way. If the city creates the opportunity for people to live, work and move around the city in an effective way through alternative transport options, people will happily use them.

What kind of city do you want Newcastle to be? Now is the time to decide and more importantly, take action to ensure it is realised.

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