Rail Lines – Re-imagining Urban Space

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Our Director of Planning and Heritage, Andrew Neil, recently presented at PRD Newcastle’s Suite Sessions series alongside David Moir of Moir Landscape Architecture and Mark Kentwell of PRD Newcastle.The Suite Sessions are held at PRD’s Newcastle New Projects suite in Hunter Street Mall, Newcastle.

Newcastle New Projects

The topic of discussion was “Why Invest in Newcastle?” and the presentations focused on the opportunities for urban renewal presented by the closure of the Newcastle rail line into the city (the line temporarily terminates at Hamilton while a new interchange is being planned and built at Wickham).

Andrew’s presentation, Rail Lines – Re-imagining Urban Space, focused on rail corridors around the world that have become successful public open spaces. We’ll provide a brief summary of his presentation here.

The High Line in New York City is perhaps the most famous adaptive re-use of an old transport corridor as an urban green zone. The High Line is now a popular tourist destination and is, at the time of writing, 7th out of 924 things to do in New York City on TripAdvisor. It has been the driver for revitalisation in surrounding areas. The Beltline in Atlanta is a 22km stretch of disused rail line and, like the High Line, is a multifunctional public open space mixing the creative and the commercial, and catering for a diversity of uses and users.

So often when discussing urban issues, we hear “But Australia is not America”. This is true, but there are Australian examples of adaptive reuse of rail corridors, such as The Goods Line in Sydney, a multi-purpose public open space. “But Newcastle is not Sydney”, people say. Well this is also true, but Newcastle has its very own example of a successful former rail corridor in the Fernleigh Track, which runs between Adamstown in Newcastle and Belmont in Lake Macquarie. There are other rail trails in the local area, including the Glendale to Wallsend Cycleway and The Fassifern to Toronto Rail Trail. Possible new trails in the Hunter include the Richmond Vale Rail Trail (which recently received $30,000 funding from Cessnock City Council) and the Awaba Wangi Rail Trail.

Rail Trail

One of the key considerations for the adaptive reuse of the Newcastle rail corridor is that people need a reason to visit the space in order to avoid creating what the urbanist Jane Jacobs called Promenades that go from no place to nowhere and have no promenaders. Great design solutions will be essential in creating destinations and points of interest along the way. Rightly or wrongly, the rail line has been terminated and it’s important to embrace the opportunities presented by the rail corridor.