Opinion article* published in The Herald is written by authors who work at the University of Newcastle, but these are their personal views. Gary Ellem is program manager for future industries at the Tom Farrell Institute. Jessica Sullivan is a marketing communications professional. Jeffery Julian is director of creative innovation

A MAJOR challenge for Newcastle and the city redevelopment is that we fall significantly below the state norms for the number of creative entrepreneurs and professional services workers as a proportion of the total workforce.

This is a significant source of regional economic leakage (for example, Sydney earns more from mining activities in the Hunter than Newcastle does) and means that not enough regional income generators are created or headquartered here.

This is a problem because businesses tend to do their value-adding innovation work such as research and development, financing and legal services close to their headquarters.

The lesson from the BHP steelworks closure is that when corporate interests are elsewhere, the solution to challenges is to move somewhere else rather than staying and innovating new business.

If we want a sustainable economic base for the city we need to lock in a set of key attributes.

  • A regional culture of developing creative entrepreneurs.
  • An attractive location for corporate headquarters and professional services businesses.
  • Liveability and desirability as a tourist destination.
  • Responsiveness to participating in new industry supply chains.
  • Strong networks and capabilities supporting innovation in our income generators.

The seeds of each have been well sown in Newcastle and continue to grow in influence and capability. So how can the city redevelopment best contribute to these activities?

Something our identified attributes for sustained economic prosperity have in common is that they are enhanced by increasing the city’s connectivity and creativity.

We need an ongoing focus on connectivity that includes physical and digital connectivity within the city and to the outside world.

We need an equal focus on improving social connectivity in terms of ideas, capabilities and collaboration, as well as ensuring that we are well connected to the technological advances and global opportunities of the future.

Creativity is a key human resource for developing entrepreneurs in the knowledge/creative industries and also underpins improving liveability to attract tourism and professional services industries.

Creativity provides a reason to visit, revisit and stay in the city because it enables challenges to be turned into opportunities.

Creative cities thrive on global challenges as a source of competitive advantage.

So what kind of iconic projects can we build into the redevelopment to enhance the city as being connected and creative? 

The University of Newcastle’s proposed NewSpace building for Hunter Street is a prime example.

The building is intended from the outset to act as a physical connection space between the skills and capability of the university (along with its networks of international thinkers and technology) and the wider regional community. It uses the redevelopment as a mechanism to improve the connectivity and capacity for creativity of the city in order to provide a supportive culture for creative entrepreneurs and the city economic base.

Transport projects can build the reputation of a city.

The car is on the cusp of its greatest reinvention since Henry Ford’s manufacturing revolution.

Johnny Cabs (driverless taxis) have been demonstrated on road, with four states in the US now drafting driverless vehicle legislation.

The University of Michigan and the city of Ann Arbor are at the forefront of this, building a dedicated autonomous taxi test track and positioning the city as an autonomous vehicle test bed.

They promise a low-cost public transport system that improves on the private car and doesn’t require  city parking. This coming technology is expected to be in mass operation by the mid 2020s, just in time for completion of Newcastle’s redevelopment.

Working with the state government to position Newcastle as the national test bed for autonomous technologies and alternative transport would cement the city’s position as Australia’s most innovative and ensure a continuing focus on regional transport investment.

Thanks to hard work and the willingness to try new ideas, Newcastle has a strong national reputation for reinvention.

Our opportunity now is to build this into the heart of the city through high-profile capacity-building projects that combine technological and cultural innovation.

Read this article in The Herald.

*This opinion piece represents the author’s views.

Newcastle Next - Tell us your vision for our city in 100 years 

Here is your chance to help shape the future of Newcastle. WHAT do you imagine our city will be like in the year 2114? The Newcastle Herald, in conjunction with IDC Hunter, wants to share your thoughts on how this city might look and operate a century into the future.

IDC Hunter will provide $2000 in prizemoney, with $1000 for  first and two supplementary prizes of $500.  Entries close 5pm, Wednesday, May 7.

Winners will be announced at the Hunter Innovation Forum Sponsored by the University of Newcastle, to be held May 15 to 17.