10/25/2011Posted by MJ
Over the past there have been some comments on DT, empty buildings, rent rates, etc. Here is great, albeit a tad long, article on a success story out of Newcastle Australia. No private money? No government plans? No government money? No problem?
Let me put a scenario to you. Say you live in an aging, fading industrial town. One that has been on receiving end of repeated shocks from earthquakes and natural disasters to the closure of its largest industries and mass unemployment. A city where an old urban core – a legacy of an era of trams and public transport long gone – has hollowed out and emptied. Retail has moved to the suburbs and a growing suburban sprawl. A city with dozens, if not hundreds of empty buildings in the old downtown. A place where the feedback loop has become so desperately negative that many of the shops and offices that remain are forced to leave by the growing vacancies around them.
How do you turn such a place around? How to bring life and people back to it? How to bring interest, curiosity and commerce? How to make it – or at least some of it – liveable and desirable again and to bring its decaying urban character back into flower?
Almost always, the answers to those questions are about physical things. They involve long planning process, research, workshops and facilitation followed by attempts to attract large amounts of capital to invest in new buildings, public amenities or to kickstart new industries.
But what if you can’t do that?...
...Renew Newcastle, the not-for-profit company that we established in late 2008 is a piece of software. It is a broker. It is an enabler. It is an interface between the aging, decaying, and at times boarded-up built environment and those who seek to use and activate it. It connects the many empty spaces in the city with the passion of people who want to experiment and try things in them. It has facilitated more than 60 projects in more than 30 once empty spaces in just over two years. It has done so without building, buying or owning anything other than some computers and some second-hand furnishings. It does not fund things – nor was it funded itself in its early stages – it just allows them to happen....
...Renew Newcastle started by hacking how much spaces cost and the terms they were available on. While there were over 150 empty buildings in Newcastle few if any of them were cheap or simple to access. They were bound up in complex rules – from bad tax incentives to complex, costly and long-term commercial leases that made it difficult to access them flexibly. Renew Newcastle traded cost for security. We created new rules, new contracts, and convinced owners to make spaces available for what was effectively barter – we would find people to clean them use them and activate them and they could have them back if and when they needed them. We stepped outside the default legal framework in which most property in Australia is managed and created a new one. We used licenses not leases, we asked for access not tenancy and exploited the loopholes those kinds of arrangements enabled. While such schemes are institutionalized in many European countries they have little precedent in Australia – in Newcastle, the entire scheme was devised, brokered and implemented directly from the community without the involvement of a government or formal development authorities still grasping at hardware based solutions. Only after the first dozen buildings had been activated did any funding appear. More than two years later any changes to rules and regulations – to the operating system – are yet to transpire....
It is all very thought provoking and shows how people with the drive and will can change things around them without waiting for the municipality or other large slow moving entities to change.