Urban areas lead a fluid life: growing, shrinking, declining and prospering at various stages due to changes in
demographic, economic, and the built and natural environments. Managing the transition of these stages is a
challenge, with urban renewal often a defining period.
Renewal can be stimulated by market driven reinvestment or can be a result of concerted efforts, often by
government or community organisations, to reinvigorate depressed or underutilised urban areas. Renewal can
be delivered in the form of ‘hard' investments in new building stock and infrastructure, including provisioning for
enhanced stocks of social and community housing, and/or ‘soft' initiatives focused on programs of engagement
or the reuse of existing infrastructure, including place-making activities.
In either case, renewal projects change the dynamics of urban areas, and in most cases there are benefits
derived by both individuals and the wider community from reinvigoration and reinvestment in depressed urban
areas, which are often susceptible to issues such as vandalism, crime, and poor business and residential
Unique in the Australian landscape (although operating in other international jurisdictions) is a particular model
of urban renewal, where the creative energy of the local community and social entrepreneurship is orchestrated
to reinvigorate places and set them up to play an ongoing productive role in the community. These renewal
projects find spaces for artists, cultural groups, community organisations or the like on an ongoing basis until
the properties are commercially let out by owners. Some of these projects are profiled below, followed by an
overview of the welfare contributions they make.
Within the Australian city of Newcastle, which has experienced a prolonged period of economic decline as
traditional industry has moved elsewhere, ‘Renew Newcastle', a not for profit company, was established in 2008
to find short and medium term uses for buildings in Newcastle's CBD that are currently vacant, disused, or
awaiting redevelopment. The company aims to find artists, cultural projects and community groups to use and
maintain these buildings until they become commercially viable or are redeveloped.
For the artists, cultural projects and community groups that occupy premises, ‘Renew Newcastle' provides
exposure and opportunity that may not have otherwise been possible or viable. Premises are occupied on a
temporary licence to enable property owners to swiftly resume control should a rent paying tenant materialise.
For the broader Newcastle community the occupation, improved maintenance and increase in activity of using
otherwise vacant premises lifts vibrancy and business confidence in the CBD and mitigates some of the
negatives associated with abandoned or disused buildings, such as graffiti, vandalism and crime.
The ‘Renew Newcastle' initiative is the first and flagship project under this concept, but it is planned to replicated
and extended to several other locations around Australia.
To facilitate artistic ventures the Arts Habitat Association (AHA) of Edmonton is engaged in finding, developing
and managing safe, affordable and appropriate living and working spaces for artists in Edmonton, Canada. More
broadly AHA has the ambition to promote Edmonton as a northern centre for dynamic, sustainable and
entrepreneurial artistic communities.
Its role includes maintaining an online database of available spaces, providing expertise to artists regarding
bylaws, zoning and grant applications, and advocating to commercial and community organisations to make
space available for artists. Additionally AHA has a number of affordable properties available for artists to rent,
many of which offer both living and working space. The ‘Meanwhile Project' in the United Kingdom implements
and operates similar projects.
These renewal projects yield society-wide benefits, as listed in the table below.
These benefits can be broadly grouped into two categories; direct user benefits and indirect benefits. Direct user
benefits are those enjoyed by the users of the facility or space, including the participating artists, cultural projects
and community groups that occupy the formerly vacant premises. Direct benefits include employment, skill
development and the creation of a sellable service or good.
Indirect benefits are the result of the flow-on benefits that the presence of ‘Renew' projects have on the wider
community. That is, the benefits that the wider community enjoys because of the presence of such initiatives.
Creation of New Jobs
In providing commercial space free of charge or at a nominal rate, renewal projects encourage and support artists,
cultural projects and community groups to undertake commercial ventures. Without these initiatives, projects
may not have occurred, as the associated start-up costs and risk(s) may be considered excessive. Additionally,
should projects succeed there are long-term employment benefits, not only for project tenants themselves, but
also for any future staff that they may employ.
For projects that occupy the venues, the opportunity to run a small business grants exposure to a wide range of
business management and leadership skills. These could include, but are not limited to: creative and technical
skills, general business management skills, sales and accountancy skills, and human resource management
Additional Volunteer Engagement
Participating in group projects fosters networks that create social capital. Community inclusion by volunteers
and workers strengthens community resilience, cultural capital, communication, and the mental health of both
volunteers and participants. Volunteer opportunities contribute significant community cohesion by building
resilient communities and social capital. An increase in productivity could occur due to engagement in the
workforce for adults (volunteers) who would otherwise be permanently disengaged.
In addition, volunteer engagement generates resource savings for projects and society as volunteers' work
enhances the productive capacity of the location/ project without any financial outgoings.
Creation of Intellectual Capital
Providing space for artists, cultural projects and community groups to engage in commercial activities presents
an opportunity for the creation of intellectual capital, some of which may have a commercial value. The creation
of intellectual capital could manifest itself in the greater choice and quality of art and cultural products available
to customers. The economic and environmental benefits to these consumers are tied up in the social / cultural
benefits, the monetary value of which is reflected in willingness to pay for the products purchased, i.e. the
Mitigation of Blight
Renewal projects which aim to assist artists, other creative individuals and small businesses to occupy previously
empty shops and offices have acted as a catalyst for renewed commercial investment in previously rundown areas
of their respective cities. The presence of more people (workers, residents and tourists) as a result of this increased
activity, on what were relatively empty streets, contributes to passive surveillance, improves safety and grows the
long-term value of the area.
Additionally, the refurbishment of run-down facilities, active maintenance of otherwise unused spaces and
buildings, as well as active involvement in cleaning facades, replacing broken windows and repainting can, in
some cases, help to discourage vandalism and graffiti. It also helps dispel any beliefs that such precincts are
accepting of anti-social behaviour.
Improved Business and Community Confidence
Steady occupancy of buildings in otherwise unused spaces and locations builds confidence within the business
and residential community of the region. Renewal projects bring an increase in activity and a renewed interest
that could provide the stimulus for a broader change in business and community confidence.
Some community projects are co-located and share facilities. In these instances, there are additional benefits
derived from locating amongst similar or complementary projects. These co-located projects benefit as they
can share and pool resources and costs with neighbours, can learn from one another and as a collective, can
attract more customers. Indeed, customers also benefit from the co-location of projects as it allows them to
access more projects via a single trip and exposes them to a number of additional projects that may be of
interest and, more importantly, of value to them.
Improved Regional Brand Value
In fostering and encouraging artists, cultural projects and community groups, renewal project locations can
distinguish themselves within the region as a centre for the arts and artistic communities. This creative element
could prove to be a strong attraction, both for tourism and in promoting investment in the region.
The ‘Renew Newcastle' project is a case in point. Newcastle has also gained an international reputation as a
tourist destination and ranked in the top ten cities to visit in 2011 recommended in the ‘Lonely Planet's Best in
Travel 2011 - the best trends, destinations, journeys and experiences for the upcoming year'. This alone could
generate significant tourist value not only to Newcastle but to Australia.
Avoided Maintenance and Insurance Costs
Generally an unused building (in mothballs) requires annual maintenance expenditure of 1% of its capital value,
reflecting the cost of securing the building and making it safe. Additionally, the cost to insure unused buildings
tends to be high relative to those for buildings in use.
Arts Habitat Association of Edmonton (2011) Edmonton, Canada, viewed 1 July, 2011, http://www.artshab.com/
Meanwhile Project (2011) United Kingdom, viewed 1 July, 2011, http://www.meanwhile.org.uk/
Renew Newcastle (2011) Newcastle, Australia, viewed 1 July 2011, http://renewnewcastle.org/
SGS Economics and Planning (2010) Community Renewal: Assessment of Economic Benefit, February 2010, Melbourne