A unique look at how people view Wollongong has delivered some sobering findings, with the city’s own residents declaring it uncultured, unsafe, divided and decrepit.
Influential Sydney-based investors, developers and academics have delivered a more positive verdict but some still consider Wollongong a seedy, outdated, tired, industrial ‘‘hick town’’.
The colourful findings were contained in an 11-month study commissioned by Brand Wollongong to better understand perceptions of the city before pursuing a new marketing strategy.
Delivering a warts and all assessment, residents described Wollongong’s cultural institutions, restaurants and nightlife as unsophisticated and its buildings and public spaces in a state of decay.
Wollongong Hospital, Wollongong railway station and the Piccadilly Centre were criticised for creating an ‘‘enclave of scumbags’’ while residents expressed concern that some suburbs were hot-spots for crime.
A perception of corruption still lingers over the city, the survey also noted.
Wollongong City Council place marketing manager Jeremy Wilshire said the survey’s unflattering findings could not be ignored.
‘‘We can’t go through this process and just pick the icing off the cake and discard the rest, or eat the meat but leave the brussel sprouts,’’ he said.
‘‘We’ve got to take it on the chin, digest it and come up with an overall strategy for real change and that includes addressing those things which are holding us back.’’
Some respondents suggested Wollongong’s problems had been around so long that people had become accustomed to them and, as a consequence, there was little appetite for improvement.
On a brighter note, residents recognised Wollongong had enormous potential to capitalise on its natural assets and accelerate its economic and social development, provided there was government action and a shift in community attitudes. Residents are also acutely aware of the shift from a steel-based economy to growing sectors such as technology, education, health and aged care.
Overall, the survey found Wollongong residents had a more negative view than investors and visitors.
‘‘I don’t think its unusual for residents to be a little harsher critics than visitors, but Wollongong seems to have had a particular challenge for some time now,’’ Mr Wilshire said. ‘‘[Therefore], enhancing the pride of Wollongong residents should remain a key focus.’’
Nearly a dozen respondents who did not live in Wollongong but had a connection to it through business, the arts, property development or tourism gave a far more positive insight into how outsiders saw the city.
They considered Wollongong an affordable place to live a relaxed coastal lifestyle, a good place for a short break or conference, culturally diverse and a ‘‘university city’’.
However, they also offered less glowing praise, noting it was not easy to get to Wollongong, and once they were there, the city looked outdated, tired and seedy.
One respondent from Queensland reported there was a general perception Wollongong was a ‘‘hick-town.’’
The survey was conducted by Jessica Baxter, a PhD student at the University of Wollongong’s Institute for Innovation in Business and Social Research.