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For a little over 10 years there has been a noticeable increase in construction, refurbishment and redevelopment in Newcastle City and the surrounding suburbs. Everyone who comes through Newcastle is bound to see some massive building site or a public project under construction in the city.

I first noticed it a year after leaving high school, that there was all this scaffolding over many buildings, and plans for bigger things were announced in the local newspapers. I joked with friends that it could end up looking like a post-apocalyptic, dystopian cityscape from a dark sci-fi film. And although that was an exaggeration, I wasn’t half wrong.

Newcastle has opened its borders to developers, more so over the last few years, and this has been changing the look and perception of the city and the surrounding region. These real estate and commercial developers are paying through the nose for property and development rights to large chucks of the city and it seems the local government has been saying yes every time, whether Newcastle needs what they’re offering or not. Those in power are giving their permission to bugger us sideways with the exchange of money and a few promises. I like to call those kinds of people whores.

Sorry for the language but I am getting concerned for my beloved city and I think it all getting a little out of hand. A natural disaster hurt the city in the shape of a flood, which still causes people to get very nervous every time it rains; a curfew on pubs and clubs is starting to choke the life out of the city's only remaining successful industry, hospitality; we have a reported gambling problem because we can’t seem to stay away from the flashing lights of those evil little poker machines; and meanwhile land is changing hands and developments are underway. But why so many at once?

Some family and friends, and friends of my family and friends, aired some concerns to me that we are either turning into a small version of Sydney or Sydney is crawling north to assimilate us into its collective of suburbs. And would anyone be surprised by either of these options? I’m hoping it’s a no on being surprised but I have my doubts.

Come on, we are a testing ground for every concept, idea and initiative the large cities like Sydney want to implement but are unsure they will work; and Sydney is trying to steal our water reserves because they waste theirs. Sounds a little like an invasion to me and not the cool-looking science fiction ones. And they are coming.

With the housing shortage in Sydney especially, causing both rents and record high prices (mainly because people are scared and greedy), developers in Newcastle came up with a solution which many professionals living down there have embraced, the construction of housing complexes, apartment blocks and flats. They move up here up here to Newcastle and commute back to work in the devil’s den every day. And it has already started to happen, according to a nice young couple from Sydney I met at a pub recently in Newcastle.

Sydney-ites are moving to Newcastle to live because it is cheaper and more cost-effective and the irony is that most Novocastrians can’t afford to rent these potential residences, let alone buy.

The Newcastle I grew up with is being pushed out into the outer suburbs and the out-of-towners are filling up the gap. It's not a case of the old guard replaced by the new guard, it’s an invasion motivated by money and convenience of those with the cash.

Recently in The Newcastle Herald’s May 16 issue there was a story with the headline ‘Empire Strikes Back’ and it didn’t have a thing to do with Star Wars. The story was about the proposed $21 million overhaul of a west end eyesore, the site of the old Empire hotel and the surrounding buildings. It’s not so much an overhaul as it is a complete re-imagining.

The owners of the development Obsidian Holdings are getting ready to demolish the derelict building and erect a 15-story commercial and residential development containing 113 one- and two-bedroom serviced apartments, five retail/commercial premises, underground parking, a roof top garden and a kick-ass restaurant.

Cool idea, one might say, but considering we already have a number of such erections going up in the city area, many within a few blocks of this one on either side of Hunter Street, with an almost identical floor plan, one must ask, why? Overhaul, can anyone say overkill?

Why do we need so many apartment blocks? Well, for the rich folk (like those from Sydney) and other well-to-do families and professionals who wish to leave the big smoke. These glass and steel monuments to progress are being built by Novocastrians in our city and the only way most of us could afford one of these modest-sized home/apartments is if we won one in a raffle between the meat tray and bingo.

And another thing I have noticed while we are on the subject of everyday Novocastrians: most of the people who fight for this city live in houses, terraces and flats that are older than their great, great grandparents and are decaying the same way. So the real face of Newcastle isn’t a schmick-looking glass and steel or kit home that comes in a carton of a dozen but the old houses with character that have lived with their inhabitants. Why don’t we build more of those?

I’m sorry to say I have no solution to any of this; it just annoys and worries me. And now I have shared.

Continued in Part Two.

Published: May 25, 2008 3:34pm by redhead.

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