How does one really get to know what a city is like without actually living in it? Sure, you can read travel brochures and do web searches and even take a reality tour on Google Maps to see what it looks like at the street level and to find out what is there to see, but does that really let you know what it will be like when you get there? So I was highly amused to read some American perceptions of our town, which described is as a former “crime ridden ghost town” now transformed into an artistic mecca, and as a “Bohemian paradise“! These are high praises indeed, I only wish they were true! And it is true that the centre of Newcastle has been changed by Renew Newcastle, and to such an extent that this program is being modelled both here and overseas, so successful has it become here. But these foreign perceptions are flawed both in their view of Newcastle’s derelict past and also its idyllic present.
Sure, there have been (and still are), many disused buildings along Hunter Street which have lent themselves to the renewal of the city centre via the arts program which allows new and innovative businesses to use those spaces for nominal rentals. This whole phenomenon makes Newcastle seem tawdry rather than a ghost town. But, as the linked commentators have pointed out, it provided an opportunity for “artrepreneurs” to capitalise on. And it is changing Newcastle. While it makes Newcastle seem really cool to call it one of the great hipster cities of the world, this is possibly an overstatement, I think to myself. But then I see the arty shops, the murals, the coffee shops, the artisanal businesses, springing up in alleyways and in old buildings, and I think, just maybe, it is true. Even as far out as Adamstown, new coffee shops are adding a flavour not seen here before, and as I sit in one of them and watch the bike riders cruising past, on their way into town, or to the Fernleigh Track, I think there may be more than a hint of truth in those foreign perceptions.
Because bikes will be the mode of transport in the hipster, arty Newcastle of the present and the near future. They are the preferred mode of transport of these denizens who are shaping the evolution of this city, they are what will make this city “liveable”, to use the catch cry of city planners. With their minuscule carbon footprint and thrifty appeal, they are the transport of choice for the future owners of the city.