Yes, where artists thrive not survive..

Recently, I took a drive through Sydney and its suburbs, and was concerned by the limited ‘sense of place’ at new development sites, both residential and commercial, across the city. I then came across a few articles published in Australian mainstream media, Josh Pikes article in the Sydney Morning Herald and Dinah Lewis Boucher’s in the Urban Developer, which were also both concerned about the lack of culture and spaces for artists in Sydney. This got me thinking.

In summary, I think if Sydney wants to be a leading global innovative city, it needs to protect its creative scene. I think there needs to be a cultural shift in thinking for Sydneysiders, and NSW communities alike. A mindset where culture and creativity are valued and formed intrinsically, rather than seen as “”something to do at the weekend”.

Our penal colony history has resulted in a very progressive and practical mindset, especially in urban development and planning, as we have grown to catch up with the rest of the world – let’s get the job done! This has had its benefits. Sydneysiders are hard-working, and in 2018 were a significant driver of the Australian economy contributing 24.4% of the National GDP (SGS Economics & Planning). I have many international friends who come to visit Sydney for work, and they are shocked that meetings are scheduled for 8am in the morning in the CBD. But I wonder whether this hard-working attitude is sustainable as the city continues to grow. The same report by SGS saw Sydney GDP growth rates fall over recent years compared to Brisbane and Melbourne. Perhaps, Sydney has neglected one of the most important elements that contributes to a great global city, the arts and the culture. Sydney’s been so distracted by growth (oh and the beaches) it’s forgotten that creativity and culture is an important tool to developing our communities. This neglect is having a direct impact on the types of development being planned for and then built. Unlike other cities in the world who need to navigate layers upon layers of heritage where development takes place, we are for the most part starting from scratch. Whether that’s greenfield sites on the outskirt of our City or small industrial sites in the middle. Curating culture into the narrative of our communities is going to be a tad harder.

Great cities have been created by artists. Think post war New York, swinging London in the sixties or more recently bubbling Berlin. Social theorist and economist Richard Florida coined the theory in the early 2000s proposing that creativity enables successful urban development. Just google him to get the lowdown.

Art and culture need to be central to the planning of our harbourside City. This will provide inclusiveness, sustainability and economic growth. Also, if we are going to solve the world’s problems, such as global warming – rigid city structures will not help. Instead allowing people to be creative, to explore and test ideas, to think outside the square about new ways to develop and grow will. We need to (literally) give room for people to think. Affordable workspace, pop ups, small bars and music venues, new retail models. A whole new ecosystem of creativity. Will it be a possible scenario where the assumption is that an art gallery provides the same rental return as a showroom for say, bulky goods?  

Not to say that everyone thinks this way (or cares). My mother, a daughter of a Greek migrant, ex lawyer and mother of four girls is the most practical person I know. I consistently ramble on to her about the issue of curating art and culture into the City for more sustainable outcomes, and she finds it hard to comprehend. But that’s OK. What I am proposing is simply for Sydney to be more inclusive, give the artists as well as the lawyers and the like an even platform to play in this city. There’s a demand (and economic case) for both.

Josh writes from the perspective of the artist. He’d like to see more spaces that are fit for purpose for artists. Not large institutions (or expensive WeWork startup offices) but nuanced authentic spaces.

The Urban Developer comments on industry perspectives. And Dinah Lewis explores in her article how more emphasis needs to be placed on the private sector to provide creative spaces. Our planning system in NSW is incredibly backwards thinking, and I look forward to seeing how the transition to a more strategic framework in the years to come will help with protecting culture and creativity.

There are some positive moves in the City with the Powerhouse Museum’s relocation to Parramatta opening up opportunities to deliver creative workspaces at the old tram shed site in Pyrmont. But let’s see where this lands.

Without a drastic mindset shift in NSW and in Sydney, policies will not change, and on-ground outcomes will not be achieved. We are not a penal colony anymore, rather a large, diverse, beautiful city with a tonne of potential. Let’s harness this.

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