Newcastle, for those who have never visited, or those who have not seen this regional city in recent years, is quite an interesting place, for lots of reasons. Those of us who call themselves locals are observing a slow quantum shift of sorts, as the city evolves in quite surprising ways.
West End, or Newcastle West as it is currently known, is almost like a community black spot - it seems to have disappeared from people's consciousness sometime between the earthquake of 1989 and now. Up until quite recently, a number of derelict buildings still stood, virtually untouched for the 22 years since the quake. Over the years, the once thriving 'gateway to Newcastle' has visually, economically and socially declined.
Needless to say, West End is about as downmarket as it gets for CBD locations in old Newcastle town.
Over on the East End of Newcastle, things are changing somewhat. The focus of the Newcastle Alliance, and the base of those revolutionary countercommercialists, Renew Newcastle, Newy East is looking very gentrified and genteel these days - if not a little bit funky.
With some snazzy new developments being recently completed, along with the revitalisation of empty CBD retail spaces by Renew Newcastle project tenants, East End Newcastle looks and feels like a baby East Melbourne by the beach...only the 'soul' factor seems to be in short supply at present. It all feels slightly upwardly mobile...
West End doesn't suffer from lack of soul. The problem, at least where we are on Hunter Street, is more to do with wrestling West End's soul from the clutches of the devil...
Within a few blocks of the SourdoughBaker Cafe is a methadone clinic, four brothels, two adult shops, four tattoo parlours, a boxing gym and three hotels. This isn't a bad thing - but the types of people who most frequently attend these facilities do tend to scare away other types.
We also have some decent music shops, a belly dance school and boutique, CD sellers, bookshops, bike shops, bead shops, bed shops and bargain shops. And a bread shop! There is a TAFE for visual artists, a large medical centre, a few doctors' surgeries, a pharmacy, a number of charities and three churches. There are also legal firms, engineering firms, architects, agencies and a tailor in the precinct mix.
Oh, and now there are four cafes. But, as yet, only one bakery. Just as well, because despite all this evidence of life, there's still not enough critical mass to really make this place viable for retail of any sort.
There has to be some work done now - to make this place friendlier for everyone. The street needs to be given back to the people. Cars will need to slow down. Bikes need some space on the street. So do kids, and older folk. Facilities need to be either renewed or revitalised. Fresh thinking needs to be applied. Landlords and councils need to think differently about how their spaces are used. We in the West End need to think about what sort of place we want to live and/or do business in, and how we want to be seen by the wider world.
Plans are afoot - apparently we are on the political radar now. We have an opportunity to invent the future over the coming months, as federal, state and local government focus some attention on this very public eyesore.
Meanwhile, we at SourdoughBaker Cafe are busy making great breakfasts, lunches, coffees and sourdough bread, and concentrating on our main mission - making as many friends in this vibrant West End mix as we can.