Vanguard Australia Urban Leadership Conference 2017

Last month, I was lucky enough to join 46 of the best and brightest in Newcastle, NSW for Vanguard Australia – a week-long experiential Urban Leadership Conference. The conference was organised by the USA-based urban journal NextCity in partnership with the City of Newcastle and Urban Growth NSW.

The host city of Newcastle has an interesting history.

  • It’s arguably the second oldest city in Australia (although Hobart often has something to say about this).
  • It was said to have hit rock bottom in 1999 when the steel industry left town works shut down, with over 2000 Novocastrians losing their full-time job.
  • And it has been going through an amazing grassroots urban renewal due to the community champions at Renew Newcastle – the model behind the MANY building in Fremantle and recently announced Activate Perth.

The grassroots renewal has been further compounded with significant investment in infrastructure from the NSW State Government including the relocation of the heavy rail station and subsequent greening of the former rail corridor as well as the construction of Light Rail in the Newcastle CBD.

The aim of Vanguard was to stimulate innovative ideas for Newcastle, to help the city thrive and compete in the global economy. The conference culminated with the ‘Big Ideas Challenge’ – with six teams coming up with a big idea for the adaptive reuse for one of two challenging vacant Heritage-listed buildings in the Newcastle CBD.

Whilst we did provide specific ‘ideas’, arguably the tips and warnings provided by the collective experience were more important. Newcastle (and the Australian attendees) learned to critically evaluate things such as:

  • Inclusion, access, and equity in housing stock
  • How to avoid displacing Newcastle’s grassroots community throughout the ongoing and exciting urban renewal process and
  • How to avoid the ever-increasing ‘generification’ of cities worldwide.

My major take home from Vanguard on Newcastle centred on the important concept of ‘review and regret’, a concept relayed from many of our North American guests. In short, it involves questioning, reviewing, regretting and learning from the built, social and cultural environment of our cities.

Einstein said ‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’. Since attending Vanguard, my personal internal drive is to be an advocate Perth’s urban leaders doing just this with our places, communities and cities.

Article by Eamonn Lourey.