Creating cities - the book

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UPDATE: Creating cities is now out and available to order. See for order information.


Hunter Street Newcastle 2008
Creating Cities is a small book about big ideas for local places. Creating Cities argues that technology, creativity and the initiative of local communities themselves are profoundly changing the possibilities of local places. We are in the middle of a profound transformation. Creativity is decentralising and proliferating while traditional retail and the places that once accommodated it are in a spiral of decline. Local communities are making more and buying less and this has profound implications for the cities that we build and the communities that we live in.

Creating Cities explores how low barriers to entry online have made it easier to make, share and distribute (think Etsy, I-Tunes, 3D printing, Amazon and E-Books) but our physical communities have higher barriers to entry than ever. We need to shift our thinking about what places are, how they work, and how we engage and imagine them. We need to look not just the hardware of our physical spaces but the software of how our cities behave to make it easier for people with creativity and imagination (but not capital) to do stuff. Initiative and imagination are as important as infrastructure but it's rarely a major part of how we make places.

Sounds like an interesting but theoretical idea, right? Well, it would be except the whole argument is based on something I've done: a real world experiment -- indeed a few of them by now.

In 2008 I established Renew Newcastle a not for profit, low budget DIY urban renewal scheme in my home town of Newcastle, Australia. Newcastle an ex-steelworking city with more than a hundred empty and derelict buildings in the city centre. Four years later, through some smart hacks of the legal system and simple, cheap, and imaginative strategies that tapped the imagination and enthusiasm of artists, makers, entrepreneurs and doers Renew Newcastle has launched more than 120 projects in more than 50 once empty buildings. In 2011, as a direct result, Lonely Planet declared the city one of the top 10 cities to visit in the world.

More recently Renew Australia have begun to take this work and thinking to other parts of the country (and occasionally the world). We've applied a logic that was originally developed around failing industrial towns and retail strips and started to see it have real wins in places like Melbourne's shiny, new but slightly soulless Docklands where abandoned food courts are becoming studio and coworking spaces and 3D printing and design studios are opening up in long empty shops.

Image: part of Renew Australia's Dockland Spaces initiative in Melbourne

Creating Cities as a book weaves together the lessons of these actual transformations, the ideas and observations that led to it and makes compelling case that makers and doers make places and need places (and place leaders) that respond to their needs. The shift from mass culture to maker-culture means that city builders and civic leaders need to re-imagine the new possibilities of places.

The same corner depicted at the top of the page: 3 years later.


Put simply, I’m going to spend some time writing a book about why cities do and don't work at the micro level for creative people! It's not so much a "how-to" guide as a "why-to" guide. I have a young family and while the work I’m doing in this area is great it often ends up costing me as much as it makes me so supporting the book is also, very simply, a way of supporting me to keep doing this stuff. I will research and write over the next 6 months and release the book in the first quarter of 2014. That's when those of you who pre-order will get your copies. Other rewards, gifts, and thank you notes will arrive sooner!

The $10,000 kick off point for the campaign was enough to allow me to produce a compelling and engaging book that draws on the work I have already done -- mixing together writing I have already undertaken with the loads of notes and thought bubbles in need of polishing up and an outlet. Now that i'm definitely committed i'm looking for additional support to pay someone far better at it than me to design, illustrate, typeset and edit the book. Every dollar, put simply, helps create a much better book!

If I'm lucky enough to be able to engage and pay all those people, every extra dollar invests a little more money in some help: a bit of extra research, a chance to better understand the places and projects I hope to write about and -- to paraphrase a (not so) great leader -- put a bit more food on my family. I have spend 5 years digging myself into a financial hole with this work so it would be really lovely to come out ahead for a change!

This short interview was filmed in Copenhagen last year - it explains a little of the philosophy of Renew and the ideas that will drive the book.


Australia’s most underrated city has transformed itself from ‘steel city’ to creative hub including an explosion of artists... photographers, fashion designers, digital artists and more as part of the inner-city regeneration scheme Renew Newcastle - Lonely Planet, Top 10 cities in the world Best in Travel 2011

Image: Olive and Co. (A Renew Newcastle Project by The Olive Tree Market)

a truly outstanding thinker who combines vision based on deep thinking with an ability to implement his vision. ... I would place Marcus in a rare group of people who can actually shape our community in a powerful and practical way." - Zac Zavos, Lost At E Minor

Image: The Carved Greenman (A Renew Newcastle Project)

Renew Newcastle has demonstrated that grassroots, entrepreneurial and cultural solutions can be found to social and economic disadvantage through reactivating civic space. Very few people have Marcus' determination and vision" - Cassandra Wilkinson, Author, columnist, and President, FBi Radio Sydney

Image: Renew Newcastle before and after.

"Renew Newcastle is the single most impressive piece of direct action I have ever seen." - James Vidler, Regional Development Australia

1948 Danforth Ave (Renew East Danforth, Toronto, Canada)

"the cost of complying with regulation can make small businesses and small real estate transactions uneconomic. Marcus came up with a clever partial solution ... [his case] that commercial real estate is prone to market failure—is pretty striking." - Justin Fox, Harvard Business Review Group

Image: Opening of 0-100 the projects of Renew Newcastle.

"With some 90 derelict buildings in the city, Marcus did what others only talked about- he brought life and colour to the heart of Newcastle by turning empty buildings into thriving places for art and culture, thereby creating an eclectic hub of activity." - Jodi McKay, former Minister for Tourism, Science and Medical Research, Women and the Hunter region, NSW Government

Image: Mark Evers Photography studio (A Renew New Tecumseth, Ontario Canada project)

"commercial real estate in general often stays empty for extremely long periods of time — something which harms neighborhoods and lets huge amounts of economic value go to waste ... Occasionally someone like Marcus Westbury will come along and shake things up." - Felix Salmon, Reuters.

Image: Studio Melt (a former Renew Newcastle project now an independent business)

"a breath of fresh air to academic researchers lacking the essential knowledge of the field. His critique of the position public institutions play in balancing the role of culture in urban regeneration and local economic development supplies us with new direction" - Xin Gu, Queensland University of Technology

Image: One Man's Trash (A Renew Newcastle Project)

"a creative whirlwind and visionary who again-and-again has pioneered desperately-needed new avenues for creative entrepreneurs to connect, share and develop their skills" - Tom Dawkins, Social entrepreneur, activist, and co-founder Start Some Good

Image: The Reading Room (a Renew Adelaide project)

"a rare combination of being able to connect and inspire people ... a true civic entrepreneur if you will. You can't underestimate how hard that is to find in one person." - Neil Takemoto, CEO, Cooltown Studios

Image: The Food Court (A Renew Australia/ Docklands Spaces project)

"an incredibly important model for the regeneration of urban areas in Australia, through it's unique combination of people, spaces, and encouraging of creative entrepreneurialism" - Rory Hyde, Architect and author of Future Practice: Conversations from the Edge of Architecture

Image: Remake Remodel (A Renew Adelaide project)

[of Renew Newcastle] "this NGO does not sell anything or engage in any real-estate speculation; nor does it offer anything remotely like a permanent solution. Permanent beta" ... There is genius in this." Bruce Sterling,

Image D11 at Docklands (A Renew Australia/ Docklands Spaces project)

"one of the most innovative and interesting urban projects to have emerged anywhere in the last decade or so - I use it constantly as a shining example of how to make cities work. Dan Hill, formerly of Arup, Monocle and stil ofl City Of Sound and Fabrica.

A short video from Renew Newcastle on Vimeo.

"Last year, Lonely Planet listed Newcastle as one of its Top 10 cities to visit (to some sideline heckling) and The Seattle Globalist recently declared it one of five global hipster cities cooler than Seattle. The idea of Newcastle as hot and hip may have something to do with ... Marcus Westbury ... by negotiating cheap rent on disused buildings for artists and craftspeople. The knock-on effect has been a burst of creativity and caffeine fuelling stations in the city centre and east end." - The Sydney Morning Herald.


For the time being I have ticked Pozible's "All Rights Reserved" button but only because I wish to keep my publishing options open until I've sorted out my national and international publishing and distribution options. I do commit to releasing significant parts of the book, the offcuts, the extracts and other bits and pieces via my own web site (which includes pretty much everything i've written to date published under Creative Commons) after the initial book hits the shelves/ e-printing/ your devices.
on 4th Sep 2013 at 11:38pm. The payment portal is closed now.
A$1 +You get the warm and fuzzy feeling of knowing that you've helped make the book happen and keep me and my family alive. You'll become part of the Creating Cities community on LInked in Facebook and (if you want) get regular updates as the book progresses towards completion. You might even get preview drafts of select chapters, thought bubbles of ideas, and requests for information as i work through the process of finishing the book.
12 Chosen | Unlimited AvailableEst. delivery is August 2013
A$2 +Get a shout out and thank you on my personal web site. Everyone who contributes $2 or more to the campaign will be the subject of a personal thank you from me via my own personal website at
4 Chosen | Unlimited AvailableEst. delivery is September 2013
A$5 +Get an empty shop shot and a chance to play empty shop bingo for an ebook! As a weird consequence of travelling up and down the country in recent years, I have taken literally hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of photographs of empty shops, deserted arcades, half empty shopping centres and For Lease signs. If you pledge $5 to Creating Cities i'll send you an original lousy camera phone photo (via email) and if you can guess where it is taken (city/ suburb and state) you'll win a free ebook!
13 Chosen | Unlimited AvailableEst. delivery is October 2013
A$15 +A free e-book of "Creating Cities" when it is released. In addition you will become a member of the Creating Cities community and the opportunity to join the discussion as the book comes together.
132 Chosen | Unlimited AvailableEst. delivery is March 2014
A$25 +Join us for beers and ideas! You will receive a free ebook when the book is realised but you'l also be invited to an exclusive invitation only event to talk cities, places, people, culture with me and a few select friends. Events will be held in Newcastle, Sydney and Melbourne in late 2013. Beers, i'm afraid, will be on you. Entertainment will be on us.
100 Chosen | Unlimited AvailableEst. delivery is March 2014
A$30 +A free limited edition print copy of Creating Cities as it is released! That's right, you're buying a book! A real one! In advance and by doing so you are forcing/ helping me to write it!
287 Chosen | Unlimited AvailableEst. delivery is March 2014
A$50 +YOUR NAME IN THE BOOK. Every sponsor or partner who donates $50 or more will be acknowledged in every single copy of the book when it is released. You will also receive a free copy in print and/or E-book format with YOUR name in it!
259 Chosen | Unlimited AvailableEst. delivery is March 2014
A$100 +Become a major supporter. Get your name in the book, get a personally signed free print and ebook copy and a personal thank you card from me that you can either treasure forever or use as a bookmark or something.
71 Chosen | Unlimited AvailableEst. delivery is March 2014
A$250 +A personalised Renew Newcastle (or any Renew project) walking tour! Your friends can spend an afternoon or evening visiting the projects and seeing how the area is evolving both before and after we came along. I'll bore you with lots of old before and after photos explaining the context, history and evolution and we can then adjourn for a drink and a chat. * Please contact me about preferred dates before selecting this option. (oh, and you get a book with your name in it!)
4 Chosen | 46 AvailableEst. delivery is March 2014
A$500 +Let's have a beer or a coffee for an hour or two and talk cities, culture, and creativity. It's my chance to say thanks and your chance to pick my brain and brainstorm, challenge or completely dismiss the ideas behind Creating Cities and Renew. In addition you will receive a free signed book with your name acknowledged. * This offer is NOT a professional consultation. Companies, cities or community groups in Australia should contact
6 Chosen | 14 AvailableEst. delivery is March 2014
A$2500 +Have me come and speak about the ideas behind Creating Cities, the Renew Newcastle and Renew Australia projects or anything else that takes your fancy. You will be listed as a major supporter in the book itself and of course receive a free copy. Travel costs to and from Melbourne, Australia will be additional. If you are interested in a particular date or time please contact me directly before committing to a pledge.
1 Chosen | 19 AvailableEst. delivery is March 2014