CITY’S STRENGTHS: Facilities such as the CSIRO Energy Centre have huge potential to generate economic growth, innovation and jobs.NEWCASTLE NEXT: Tell us your vision for our city in 100 years
WHAT does Newcastle look like in 100 years? Of course, the evolution of a complex metropolis is essentially unknowable. But here’s the speech we’d like to see the lord mayor give on May 1, 2114:
‘‘Today we celebrate the opening of the World Expo on Innovation, being proudly hosted by our beautiful Newcastle. As we enjoy the fortune and prosperity of our beautiful city, it is important to honour our ancestors.
‘‘These were the foresighted men and women whose wise decisions early last century laid the foundations for the magnificent healthy place our city is today.
‘‘Our town is now a world leader in innovation, and a global model of how cities can make the shift from dependency on a particular industry.
‘‘But it could have been a very different story. Had we not taken the decisions we did in the early decades of last century, Newcastle could have gone the way of coastal cities that failed to make decisions for the future and became rusting museum pieces.
‘‘It’s hard to believe that just 100 years ago, in 2014, our beautiful town was emerging from an industrial, polluting past to an uncertain future. While the transition from resource-industry dependency had begun with the closure of the BHP steelworks in the late 1990s, we were still reliant on coal exports.
‘‘As the world’s largest coal port, Newcastle was suffering the health impacts of air laden with coal dust. We were threatening our own future, and the world’s, through our coal exports’ fuelling of climate change.
‘‘Our workforce was made up of former steelworkers, retailers struggling to keep the doors open and a small army of Sydney-bound office workers making the mad dash for the 6.12am flyer every morning.
‘‘Newcastle was built on coal, but as the terrible pollution impacts of coal became clear, our town knew that we had to change.
‘‘And change we did. The collapse of the coal price that began in 2013 was followed by binding international action on climate change that spelt the end for the industry.
‘‘A lot of coal-dependent communities were caught off-guard. But, perhaps due to our experience in dealing with the closure of the BHP steelworks – and the resilience and genius of the Novocastrian spirit – we’ve always been a town that understood how to act as a community and recognised opportunities when they appeared.
‘‘What was a crisis for some cities became an opportunity for Newcastle. And we seized the opportunity with an ethic of leaving nobody behind. Our town was committed to a Just Transition, and we looked after our own.
‘‘Projects that began in the early years of the last century, such as Renew Newcastle, saw young designers get the support they needed to make a name for themselves in fashion, design and art.
‘‘As Australia’s second oldest town, we became a liveable alternative to the capital cities. This was no accident. We went out of our way to attract new industries and employers that would provide wealth and jobs when the coal industry shut down. We lobbied state and federal governments to assist us in making the Just Transition to a future beyond coal.
‘‘And we helped ensure that the communities further up the valley who had lived with massive coalmines for years were looked after – that the rehabilitation efforts were first-class, and that those towns continued to thrive.
‘‘In making this transition, we played to our strengths – our tertiary institutions, such as the CSIRO energy centre, and medical research facilities that could be hubs of research and innovation.
‘‘The reputation of the University of Newcastle grew, and grew. The tourism industry that was already healthy started to thrive as we nurtured it and supported it more; there was land available and trained workers who could provide the backbone of a renewable energy manufacturing industry, which in turn provided clean energy for our country, and the region.
‘‘But, for many of us in the Newcastle of 2114, the real sign of hope and beauty is found on Ash Island. To see the healthy wetlands and rehabilitated rainforest on the island makes us incredibly grateful to those forebears who had the vision and energy to work for a place they knew they might never get to enjoy themselves, but one their kids and grandkids would grow to love and value.
‘‘I would be remiss if I did not also pay tribute to those communities and concerned citizens who had the courage to overthrow Old King Coal.
‘‘They knew we could not rely on a finite resource for long-term prosperity, nor rely on the short-term profits of the coal industry when the future health, wealth and well-being of our community, country and planet were at stake.’’
David Ritter is the chief executive of Greenpeace Australia-Pacific