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EDITORIAL: Newcastle’s future depends on proper planning, say international experts.

AT a presentation by the University of Newcastle on Monday night, economist Antoine van Agtmael and journalist Fred Bakker – authors of The Smartest Places on Earth: Why Rustbelts are the Emerging Hotspots of Global Innovation –explained how the city could bestfind its “technological niche” for the future.

The next morning, at a Department of Planning and Environmentworkshop at Fort Scratchley, NSWchief plannerGary Whiteand London-based cities specialistGreg Clarkwere equally enthusiastic about the opportunities opening up for Newcastle and the broader Hunter Region.

On his first visit to Newcastle, Professor Clark was pleasantly surprised by the amount of progress already under way in the rebuilding of the regional economy. Based on what he heard, he had come to Newcastle expecting some sort of “rustbelt” destination. Instead, as he told his audience, manyof the building blocks of a successfully rejuvenated, post-industrial city were already in place, or on the way there.

This bodes well for the future, but as Professor Clark made clear, there is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to decision-making in regional cities.

As this week’s visitors –and others before them –have made abundantly clear, the globalised nature of life in the 21stcentury meansthat Newcastle is one of many cities taking part –consciously or not –in an international struggle to attract people, capital, companies and institutions.

Key to success in this struggle –according to the futurists and planners –is the ability to present a unified voice to the outside world when it comes to telling the decision-makers, the keepers to the treasury keys, what it is we want. Newcastle has long had a reputation for fractious politics, for having an unnecessary number of representative bodies, all claiming to speak for the region:and all guilty, to some degree or other, of failing to co-operate with each other. According to Professor Clark, decision-makers in successful emerging cities have found ways to put aside their internal differences, and to co-operatein ways that benefitthe broader community, and not just their individual bits of it.

The question is, can we do this here? It might be a cliche, but Newcastle has natural assets that cities around the world would kill for. Are we ready to capitalise on them, to work together, and to take that next step?

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