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17 Dec

Opinion: Newcastle’s open space shows the Graz is not always greener

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LIMITED PARKING: Two of the author’s children on a frozen football field in Graz. My family had the good fortune of spending six weeks this year in Graz, a city of about 300,000 people two hours down the road from Vienna, Austria’s main metropolis.

Sound familiar?

Traveloffers a valuable perspective, but living in a foreign city ramps up that perspective in ways that a casual, short-term visit cannot.

A six-week stay forces you to think about where to shop for groceries, how to get around without sending yourself bankrupt (never an easy thing when you have three children) and other priorities more aligned with those of the local population.

How do I get to work?Where is the town hall? Where is the library? Where can I park? Where is the hospital? Pharmacy? Why did my loaf of bread freeze on the walk home? (Did I mention it was cold.Really cold.)

Interestingly, one of the questions we never resolved was, to quote Cat Stevens, where do the children play?

Graz, Austria’s second-largest city.

My kids bought a soccer ball when we arrived. Then we went looking for a ground. And we looked, and we looked, and we looked.

We drove past soccer fields inside school grounds, all fenced off behind four metres of cyclone fence.

We drove past club pitches which were also behind locked gates. We drove to and beyond the edge of the city.

We found a couple of landscaped gardens and a smallish park with a playground in the middle of town.Otherwise, not much.

We were living in the middle of the Leechwald, a beautiful and slightly Blair Witchy forest on the edge of town.

It had a small, accessible soccer field, an expanse of frozen mud unusable in winter.

We finally found a university oval without a fence, but a caretaker quickly kicked us off.

Much of Graz is lovely, especially its well preserved old centre, and it has an outstanding tram network which brings most of its citizens into that centre inside 10 minutes.

But it has few (barely any) places for children to spread their wings and launch a football into the stratosphere without fear of reprisals.

It made me think about home.

The letters page of this paper sometimes includes opinions about the lack of open space in Newcastle, and, while I appreciate readers’ efforts to preserve that space, it is important to reflect on how lucky we are.

A satellite view of Graz.

Newcastle has Foreshore Park, Civic Park, No.1 Sportsground, National Park, King Edward Park, Nesca Park, Centennial Park, Townson Oval, Adamstown Park, Hawkins Oval, Smith Park and a host of other easily accessible fields within a few kilometres of the CBD, almost all of them bigger than any open green area in any part of Graz.

And we have beaches and state recreation areas and Blackbutt and the lake and Speers Point Park and more beaches and sand dunes and more beaches.

It is one of ’s great assets, this abundance.

And it is one of the reasons The Economist magazine’s latest Global Liveability Index report ranked three n cities, Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, in its top 10. (Vienna was on top.)

“Several cities in the top 10 also have relatively low population density,” the report says.

“These can foster a range of recreational activities without leading to high crime levels or overburdened infrastructure.

A satellite view of Newcastle.

“Six of the top 10 scoring cities are in and Canada, which have, respectively, population densities of 3.2 and 4 people per square kilometre.

“These densities compare with a global (land) average of 58 and a US average of 35.6, according to the latest World Bank statistics, from 2017.”

On a city scale, Graz has a density of 2200 people per square kilometre, compared with 1220 in Newcastle (the two local government areas).

Newcastle’s population density is hardly likely to approach Graz’s any time soon, but it is a stated aim of governments for it to grow.

The inner-city boom is evidence that densities can change the character of an urban areawithin a generation, but as yet it has had little impact on Newcastle’s supply of park land.

A more pressing problem–and one other countries may envy–is how sporting clubs shoehorn all theirincreasinglyyear-round activities into the playing fields we have.

Novocastrians are right to prize and preservetheir green space.

Not everyone has it.

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