What the 24 hour economy can look like for Sydney
How can we foster the conditions for creativity to thrive? Hear from NSW's 24 Hour Economy Commissioner Michael Rodrigues, City of Sydney Deputy Lord Mayor Jess Scully, writer and poet Sara Saleh, Carla Theunissen from Sydney Olympic Park Authority, and host Steph Harmon, Culture Editor of Guardian Australia.
As we emerge from the last two years of lockdown and grapple with the continued challenges and impacts of living with COVID-19, now is the time to renew focus and vision to create the diverse and vibrant city we all want and deserve. And building up the arts sector is a crucial part of that.
In this Sydney Ideas conversation, we explore what the 24 hour economy looks like and steps to future proof the city. How do we breathe new life and nurture a new diversity, including the next generation, inclusive events and culture, and opportunities beyond the CBD?
Hear insights from industry experts and creative pioneers including:
Well, good evening everyone and welcome to this Sydney ideas event where we're discussing bringing night life back to our city, a topic that's very close to the heart of us here at the University of Sydney.
I'm Mark Scott, and I'm Vice Chancellor here at the university and tonight I'm on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation and I want to pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging. It's a pleasure to be with you, to be able to open this conversation, and I should say at the outset, the irony is not missed by any of us.
We were all planning to gather together in-person to talk about restoring the nightlife to our city but the weather and circumstances had overtaken us and so we're gathering tonight on Zoom. Of course, we're all very well experienced in how to do that.
I've had chance to reflect on the importance of gathering together. I was appointed Vice-Chancellor last year. I started here at the University in July and I can tell you my first few months were very, very quiet on campus. There was, in effect, no-one here. Quite sad in many ways and quite a contrast to what we saw just two weeks ago when we had Welcome Week.
We opened up our university to students again and they came back in vast numbers. So happy to be gathering together once more big crowds, live music, food, trucks, hundreds of clubs and societies to join.
You know, there is something joyful about coming together and we feel very strongly at the university that it's the community experience, that sort of vital part of the education.
How wonderful it is to gather together how wonderful it is to learn together, and so we've had strong evidence of that.
I suspect one of the things we've learned through COVID-19 is the importance of some things that we've taken for granted and perhaps if we ever took for granted the importance of gathering together, we'll never do so again, after the experiences of COVID-19.
Here at the University, we want to be a place for connection, where a community comes together, where we talk and share ideas, an inclusive place for us to live and to work and to play and we're confident that as we come through the challenges of COVID, our university can once again come back to life in the way that we want it to be.
I think that's an important example. I think, more broadly for our city, the debate around nightlife in our city has been a relevant and a pressing one for several years now dating back before the COVID shutdowns.
But how important it is now; how important is that we create an environment where we all emerge from wherever we've been bunkered down, to enjoy all that this city has to offer in the nightlife, and to take advantage of our opportunities to be part of a broader community, and to share the great things of life together in our great city.
But how do we do that after several years of disruption, and then several years before that, when the nightlife in our city was dialled down?
Well, that's what tonight's discussion is all about, and we've got a terrific panel who are full of expertise and full of ideas, and we look forward to hearing their contributions in the hour that lies ahead.
So I'm now going to hand it over to our MC tonight, Steph Harmon. Steph is the Culture Editor of Guardian Australia and she's going to moderate tonight's event and welcome our guests. So Steph, over to you.
Thank you Mark Scott, it is a pleasure to have you here and thanks everyone else as well for joining Sydney Ideas today.
I am Culture Editor of Guardian Australia. I am your moderator this evening.
Obviously, we were all very, very looking forward to seeing actual people in the flesh, but we have been felled by the weather. It's a refreshing change from being felled by the pandemic but we're on Zoom again.
So Sydney's nightlife. This is a particularly close to home topic for me. I was editing a Sydney music and arts magazine, more than a decade ago back when the nightlife in Sydney was bustling with venues and art shows and readings and gigs.
Sometimes you'd go to three or four a night but when the Sydney lockouts took hold in 2014, we watched that scene decimated – so not just the music and bars and venues but all of the arts industries and hospitality industries that supported that culture and were supported by that culture as well.
In 2019, TimeOut magazine asked readers to judge 48 global cities on their nightlife and Sydney came in at number 48. And that was before the bushfires. It was before the pandemic, it was before the floods that we're seeing right now.
So the pressing question is, how do we use this moment to rebuild? To recreate or even create a more diverse and vibrant city? One that doesn't just revolve around inner cities, around bars, around booze?
We've got some incredibly smart people working very hard to answer that question.
On the panel today we have Jess Scully, City of Sydney's Deputy Lord Mayor, who is lowkey obsessed with reviving public space, nightlife and creative culture of cities. Her book 'Glimpses of Utopia' is all about how new ideas can change where we live and how we live for the better.
We also have Sara Saleh, a refugee and racial justice activist, a writer and an award-winning poet. She's also an ambassador of the wildly brilliant Bankstown Poetry Slam and she'll be giving us a taste of her work at the end of the panel so you have to stick around for that.
We have Carla Theunissen, who had a career in major events in Sydney, including at Sydney Festival and the Sydney Opera House, before working on cultural programs and CBD activation for the City of Parramatta. She's now the Senior Manager of Place Activation at Sydney Olympic Park.
And finally, we have the state of New South Wales' first 24 hour Economy Commissioner, Michael Rodrigues, who's heading up the major strategy to turn Sydney into a 24 hour city. He's spent 15 years at the helm of TimeOut Australia so he knows all about the phases that Sydney has been through, and where it's heading.
He's going to give us a bit of a lay of the land now just to set things up before the panel kicks off. So thanks, Mike, take it away.
Thanks very much Steph and also Mark for having me. It's a new concept, in terms of pilots anyway, 24 hour economy.
And despite my best efforts, I'm not able to locate a precedent anywhere else in the country nor globally, for a central government taking such an active interest in getting going out conditions, right.
And it's a really exciting opportunity, I think, for everyone, partly why I do so much engagement. I'll do my best to stick to my allocated time slot here.
Because it is a real opportunity. I think the pandemic has created this in particular for us to slow down stop and think, what could the potential be?
And not with the lens of how do we get back the inverted commas good old days, but what could the future look like? Because I don't know that we ever actually had it right.
And we can argue the toss with that later. But that's part of the opportunity that where I find myself today. And hopefully, we can have a great discussion.
So you guys can help me do what I need to do, which is create those conditions that are so essential for creativity to flourish and for people to go out enjoy themselves and be part of a city.
Because it's so new and I spend my life really responding to you know what you need to do. And I was given this health warning when I took the role, because I'm both the city's nightlife champion and its whipping person, but it means different things to different people.
So if you're a consumer, someone who just wants to go out and have fun, if you're a student who's visiting from another country, perhaps, if you're a shift worker, a musician and hospitality professional, if you own licenced premises and once had a roaring trade off the back of certain practices, or if you're a new small bar owner, if you're an industry advocate that represents interests, from your own perspectives, you might be obsessed with red tape, and why can't we get a DA through?
And what can the government be doing? There's a category that I think often gets overlooked. And that's the the investor - who's providing the capital to help support the going out infrastructure?
So these lenses, are just a summary, I think, of the many different stakeholders who have an interest in this and why wouldn't you? It's something that affects us on a daily basis, whether you're on a zoom call, because it's too wet to go out or because there's restrictions in place from a safety perspective.
And lastly, of course, like if you ask the clans of the Eora, about 24 hour economy, and they might look at you relatively strangely because is was always and I acknowledge we are on Gadigal land and pay my respects to elder's past, present and emerging across Eora.
So how I like to think about it really, and please, by all means, go read the 57 page government document; but to simplify it really what's it's the heart of the 24 hour economy strategy is an ambition to tell the story of people and place across Greater Sydney.
And so, we have such a diverse topography. We have, I think, the seventh most multicultural city on the planet. And so that kind of really and then as I say, it's framed up really by the story of the oldest time.
And I really approached the work from that perspective and see myself as someone who is there to help facilitate and pull levers to allow that storytelling to happen.
There's a couple of other unifying concepts so I'll just make really brief mention, but from an economic perspective, it there's a view that the city is an asset and if you were running a trucking company, you wouldn't park trucks up on the on the sidewalk 16 hours a day you want them on the road generating outcomes from a business perspective.
So a 24 hour economy gives rise to how flexible a business model can you have for a city that's looking to serve businesses of all types. Potentially even different time zones or economic activity elsewhere on the planet?
Trust me the how of this is entirely complicated because of the number of stakeholders and we'll talk about this later, but my work spans councils across Greater Sydney, the many verticals that underpin the going out economy and I think at least 10 government agencies in New South Wales, that I know of probably about 20 teams between.
And what's the objective here really well, it's to make the city more livable, more vibrant and more exciting. And why do we want to do that?
Well, that's the best way of attracting and keeping smart people. And from an economic perspective, talent attraction and capital attraction leads to new industries. That's a very economic view.
But really, what comes with that is enhanced citizen amenity. People of all places, stations, whether you're my five year old daughter or my 75 year old father, how can they participate in going out experiences in a way that they feel comfortable with, and that can also make them part of the community.
And so I think the last point I'll make before I pass back to Steph, who's going to chair us from this point is really that Lock Outs and where we've ended up in New South Wales is because of the lockout experience: we thought about this, in a deep way.
And if lockout, as I've said before, was a cold, perhaps lockdown is equivalent of pneumonia. And so what we've got here is a strategy that if we think about the principles of it, perhaps we can use it for reimagining a going out economy of the future.
Thank you so much for that. Mike. I want to start with a question for you. I mean, you started this job in the middle of a pandemic.
And now touchwood, it kind of feels a little bit like we're coming out of it. restrictions are easing. But it's not like our nightlife is going to just snap back is it?
I mean, even before the pandemic, we were going out less, and now there's actual risk associated with going out, health risk. I'm wondering, from your perspective, what are the biggest challenges holding Sydney's nightlife back right now?
And how do you see us convincing people to go out again?
I'm always out in my head, by the way. So whether I'm on a Zoom call, or actually out and about, I like to think about these three things.
So if you think about the impact of the pandemic, and as you've touched on, lockout was an oversimplification there was actually other transitions that were happening, we can talk about those.
But think about these usage, occasions of entertainment, which is kind of primarily why in this context, nightlife is referenced.
The destinational visit - I'm going to leave my house and go somewhere at a distance, some cost navigating public transport, or otherwise.
The destination of visit, what's around my local area, can I walk to it, and what's happened to that during the pandemic. And then lastly, the couch, which, as you've heard me say, at other times is my sworn enemy.
I'm there to advocate that couches, need to put up a 'Sorry, we're closed' because people want to, people should be out. If you think about those three things, like what's happened to the destinational experiences has become increasingly more challenging.
And today's a great example with the weather. Before weather, we had bushfires right? So there's sort of a series of events here, potentially, that we got to think about.
We said it's not safe to come out and perhaps don't get on public transport. And then the pandemics really impacted those concentrated areas in a way that hasn't necessarily happened in the suburbs or neighbourhoods.
And so that has taken a big hit, and needs special consideration. The local areas tended to improve not in all places, but because people have been at home they've been spending in their area. And have got familiar with it for which is actually how Sydney was set up as suburbs versus city.
And we when did we decide the only office work could go on in the city? That's a good question to come back to. But if you think about the couch, why it's my enemy so to speak, is that now there's a service that allows you to combine all your streaming services, so you don't have to surf the streaming services.
You can order the rest of the city to your couch via delivery. And it's two clicks to stay in, how many does it take to go out? And so I think a former city council said something like, convenience is the enemy of sustainability and the convenience of at home entertainment is a barrier, and we've become used to it.
And I think the Vice Chancellor made a good point about social connection very innate that we want to be together.
And so there is an element that will happen. But you know, there's a real user experience element to this. And price. Price is one of the biggest factors that I think gets overlooked when it comes to this discussion.
And, you know, these are the things that I spent my time worrying about.
Yeah, I mean, maybe Jess, you know, I know that the City of Sydney is always looking for ways to kind of get us off our couch and into the city.
I'm wondering if you can give us some actual specifics about you know, as we recover from the lockdowns and the lock outs.
You've been across the kind of different techniques that have worked, but you've also been across ones that might not have. I'm wondering if you can tell us what's been working and what surprised you and what can we learn from failures?
Oh, yeah, so much, so much Steph. And I also want to acknowledge that I'm coming to you from Gadigal land tonight and to extend my respect to elders past and present, and the next generation of elders of the Eora nation.
And I'm so delighted to be here. I wish we were meeting in person.
I don't want to scare you, Mike, but I think the couch is behind you. So watch out, watch your back.
But look, I think Mike talked about the destinational experience, right and what is working is creating destinations that are more intentional and actually designed to attract people, because we got to do a lot to seduce people off their couches again.
We've all gotten, even us extroverts have become introverts over the last two years. And so cities need to work more collaboratively and harder to entice people out.
And there are a few other D-words apart from destination that I want to come to that I think are important. But in terms of what had been working was Alfresco, right.
So actually making people feel safe by bringing them out onto the street. And since November 2020, we've had 393 businesses in the City of Sydney, just in the inner city, who have taken up the outdoor dining opportunity.
So this is free outdoor dining, reclaiming car spaces for people to like, have a good time and connect with each other.
For businesses to trade, when they had reduced capacity restrictions, and when they and also when people didn't feel safe going into venues.
And that really worked until it started raining all the time. Right. So that has been a real challenge in terms of what hasn't worked.
What has worked is turning more space over to social life and creativity. So we've done these amazing series of six street closures in partnership working hand in hand with the New South Wales Government and the Festival of Place, which we've called Sydney Summer Streets.
And they have just gone off and you know, like the one on Crown Street, I think is just this unforgettable experience for everyone who got to go out there and dance on the street and reconnect with their friends and neighbours.
Because as well as being for capital attraction and talent, attraction; what nightlife and creativity and social life brings us is connection and belonging.
And it's the reason we live in cities and not, you know, spread out all over the countryside. So that was the stuff that worked. The challenge we're facing is the climate challenge. That is the overarching story that we need to deal with.
And then just throw a few other words in the mix. You know, it's the need for greater diversity of opportunities and options to go out, better broader distribution around the city is required, and redefining expectations about what it means to live in a city and what your role is as a citizen in a city, which I'd love to talk more about later. But I'll leave it there Steph.
Thanks. Yeah, I live in Redfern, also on Gadigal land of Eora nation and acknowledge Indigenous elders past and present but also acknowledge that Summer Streets of Redfern was a really, really great night out from the City.
Sara, I wanted to come to you I mean this conversation around nightlife. It's always been kind of dominated on bars and venues in the inner city.
But there's a very different nightlife to be found and to be revitalised in Western Sydney as well. And this area, of course, was the hardest hit by the Pandemic.
You're in part of one of the most vibrant creative organisations in the area, the Bankstown Poetry Slam. Can you talk us through what Western Sydney is nightlife is like at its best and also what the area's been through during the last few years.
Thanks Steph. Before I begin, I would also like to acknowledge that I'm on Gadigal land, the Gadigal land of the Gadigal and Bidjigal peoples, and to pay my respects to elders past and present and I just want to say that I'm in awe always of the fact that I'm on land where storytelling has taken place for generations and generations before us.
And in the spirit of tonight's conversation, where we are talking about storytelling and sharing and the future. One also must pay our heed I suppose and honour our past as well, in order to kind of, you know, figure out where we're going.
So with that, this is was and always will be Aboriginal land. I think, so much has been said already, of course, and so much to comment on and I particularly loved what was said around the tapestry of you know, this rich country that we're on, and situating ourselves as migrants as settlers as very diverse, multicultural communities on stolen land and what does that mean?
What does that look like for and these are important considerations for the nightlife.
To go to your question, I think as an artist and as someone who is, you know, quite obviously and visibly from a different community; growing up, especially around my uni years in going to Sydney Uni and growing up in that area. I didn't always feel particularly welcome because the dominant sort of mode of nightlife was the pub or the bar.
And, you know, of course, you know, there's a variety of people that will be like fine with that. But I also think it is something that is really missing from the conversation around how we become more inclusive and how we think about being more family friendly and safe, and how we, you know, sort of turn away from the dominance of that drinking culture.
So for me, like even as I said, as early on as my university days, just wanting to get a late night cup of coffee, because I'm that kind of person was really difficult because everything closed early, and my only options were bars and pubs.
And so in order to find a place that felt a little bit more welcoming, and a little bit more inclusive, I would have to go out west.
And that could be as you know, all the way in Parramatta, which acknowledging from Sydney Uni is a little bit of a trek, to Burwood, and to Lakemba, and other sorts of, you know, Western Sydney suburbs.
And so for me, that's always been something that I have thought about and have been doing, it's sort of not even something I think about actually at this point.
But to yeah, to kind of go to Bankstown Poetry Slam, that's exactly why Bankstown Poetry Slam was started. Because communities, artists, young, you know, artists from all over Western Sydney, were kind of getting tired of having to constantly make the trek especially midweek to the city. Whether it was a long train rides, or driving there and copping a ticket, because you know, it's so expensive to park in the city and you will be fined, they will fine you.
I think just thinking about that, and trying to bring it out and make, you know, create spaces that were geographically accessible, but also not constantly just held at bars and pubs to celebrate and share and exchange our art and our storytelling was precisely why BPS was started a decade ago.
And clearly there was a need for it, because it has been thriving in the last decade and hasn't stopped.
And so what that tells me or what that tells us, I suppose, is that there's definitely a need to be able to create these spaces; to be more welcoming, to think about how we engage young artists from all around and communities from all around Western Sydney, and to not just centre the city in that.
And, yeah, obviously, the last year or two has really been quite difficult. I expected that with the lockout laws, it would shift and force people to go further out. But then obviously, with pandemic, with climate, these are really big questions about how we think about this.
But from the perspective of local businesses, we were really hard hit particularly with the response in Western Sydney and the whole 'communities of concern' rhetoric.
But what's also really amazing to see is that we're so invested in our local communities that we have been the first to be there to support and to try and do what we can to address some of the issues that have come out over the last few years.
And you know, just going more like digging deeper into that. Carla, you've been focused on revitalising and re activating some of these spaces in Western Sydney.
So, you know, from your perspective, what's happening different in that region, compared to the CBD in Sydney.
I mean, you mentioned when we were speaking earlier that the areas you're working in have actually bounced back a little bit faster. Can you talk us through what you've been noticing?
Yeah, well, I'm now working a giant park. So Sydney Olympic Park, and I did not know this before I started and I'm really new in the job, is the size of the CBD, which is gobsmacking. Right.
And during the pandemic, some of our public parks have been so well patronised that, in fact, they're getting crowded. So we're doing stuff like putting charcoal barbecues in, we've built a container that's like a plug and play container for musicians.
So we're kind of trying to meet the community where they're at. And can I say, sport, also, while it's not my field of speciality, it's gone off in the park.
We had a Matilda's game recently that had 50,000 people to it. And then March from about March 19 to 26, we're gonna have about 150,000 people through the park for sporting events.
So you know, there is stuff going on. So it's quite a different perspective to being in a CBD. And yeah, it's been really fun. There's, I see a lot of opportunity. So that's, that's pretty exciting. Yeah.
What kind of opportunity like can you talk through some of the I mean, I know you and Jess both have a passion for activating spaces that might not be used correctly or used in other ways, maybe you can both talk a little bit about some opportunities you've seen and spotted that getting people out of the house.
One of the funniest things that happened to me on my first precinct visit to the park in this new job was walking around with our urban designer, and we stumbled across an amphitheatre, and it's 1000 seat amphitheatre that I did not even know was in the park.
So I got pretty excited, because I get excited anytime I see a venue let alone when its undercover and outdoor - I was like, It's COVID friendly! So it is... we have venues in the park.
There's also the wood chopping arena, otherwise known as the Charles Moses stadium, that seats 2000 people. And again, it's outdoor, and it's got lighting kind of infrastructure and stuff.
So I guess I'm just seeing heaps and heaps of assets that we can use. And I'm in great conversations with some of our venues right now about bringing creative communities into those venues, and trying to lower the barriers including price cost.
So it's yeah, it probably sounds a bit ridiculous, but I'm super excited because I'm in exactly the right place. There's and then there's, just all the parks, there's just, you know, there's just green space everywhere. So we have loads of opportunity.
And this one particular bit of the the park called the armoury, which is really beautiful, heritage precinct used to be an old munitions factory, but it's gorgeous.
And I think that's got amazing capacity for cultural production. So, in fact, it is being used by artists right now, but there could be a lot more use. So yeah, I'm pretty excited about the opportunities.
And I mean, green spaces become a huge thing during the pandemic, too, right?
I mean, we all knew every single green park every green space, you know, in our five km, I think we became very acquainted with it.
Jess I'm wondering what the challenges are, you know, coming from the City of Sydney. perspective, have you, are you taking any learnings from what's happening in Western Sydney, like watching you know, perhaps a more thriving nightlife in suburbs like Burwood, compared to what's happened to the CBD? Like, what are you learning from the city's perspective?
Absolutely, I think there's so much to learn and the first thing we learnt is that every space works really hard.
And you know, as Carla said, like, the people are just claiming space where they can and people, one of the great things that came out of the pandemic is, I think, a sense of ownership over public space.
And we saw a lot of kids like building BMX tracks in a couple of parks around Sydney, and now we're figuring out how we can make that stuff safe and permanent.
And people, you know, using space more intensively over parks, which they might have used more in the daytime, using them at night time too, to have different places to hang out.
And what we're learning, you know, from Sydney is, you know, how do we help people feel that sense of connection and ownership? How do we make it safe for them? Absolutely. But also, how do we provide options that are more diverse and family friendly?
And so we've got this pipeline of events that we've supported that are still coming through between now and June, including, you know, a family friendly Dance Festival at Belmore Park and Belmore Park is this jewel, you know, it's right there next to Central Station.
It doesn't get a lot of use apart from maybe during protests. And so we're actually going to start to see hopefully that being used more for family friendly opportunities.
You've got a festival at Hyde Park Barracks coming with producers from all over Sydney. And we're trying to give people good reasons to come back to the city but we are also noting that our villages you know, Redfern you know, Potts point, Darlinghurst they didn't ever see the drop off in people going out as we have seen in the CBD.
So how do we keep people in love with their local neighbourhoods and still going out in their local neighbourhoods, and developing up more nightlife offerings in those neighbourhoods to cater to people who maybe don't want to travel so much for the destinational thing or maybe come and travel into the CBD, fewer days of the week, but they're still going out and having a good time, closer to home as well.
So figuring out how we can have really great micro precinct offerings all over the city is what we're learning out of it as well. And so we've got this new category, which is called, grant category for the precinct activation grants where we're offering really substantial sums of money to people to work as creative teams to come and activate and bring unique character and flavour to different parts of the city.
So that we get that more nuanced range of offerings that that Sara was talking about, as well.
Um, we've had a question on Slido, which I just I think it's a really interesting one.
And it's kind of tied a little bit to this idea of travel and I think Mike, you've got some thoughts about people living where they work and work and offices being kind of centred in the city, but the last few years (this is JP's question) have instilled a deep fear of death and contamination in us. How do you undo that fear?
Like how do you make people feel safe again to travel? To sort of go beyond the confines of their local locales and to feel okay on public transport in the CBD? Still feels weird to me to be inside a bus? How are we going to kind of get that trust back?
I've got so many thoughts right like that I can I make this comment before I get into the specifics because so much of this is about recognising whether you want to embrace a new paradigm or agree to the paradigm of the old.
And I just gotta say this, that a lot of vibe, whether design or judgement your panellists today, and I don't know everyone very well. But what I do know is that most have come from the western suburbs I grew up in Liverpool went to school in Campbelltown. Scully, I know was Liverpool West school in Fairfield, and Sara, I'm guessing maybe Bankstown, and Carla you and I met at Parramatta.
And when I was appointed to the role, you know, my awakening to social media and trolls was when I said, you know, I want to make it possible to go out for $50 a night or less, people said you can't do that who is this guy when did he last go outside.
But also if your idea of a night out is to sort of focus on alcohol and drink a lot you're going to, if your night out, your price is going to be higher, right.
But if your night out is as I have known to do is like street food in Harris Park and good conversation, etc, then this becomes a very different concept.
So like and the reason I say that is because when you get to the safety discussion, which is what frames up the 24 hour economy strategy, it has risen from that lockout experience, and we've got an honour that and respect it but what does safety mean in 2020 234, and inhalation from smoke slipping over in the wet if you're, you know, person who's older or has mobility issues?
And of course, how do you feel about hygiene and, you know, so these are things that I think all impacted consumer experience. And so building back trust, is I think recognising the need to do that in the first instance. So things like visible cleaning, I think the city's been proactive on that front as just one example.
But it also goes to issues of safe transfer between transport points, lighting, and ventilation. And so much of this is about, I think establishing a new paradigm.
And this is where I sometimes get into challenges in certain stakeholder groups because it rethinks our overall approach without abandoning the best of what we had before, by the way, and I think Carla made an interesting point about sport.
I'm so agnostic about why people leave the house. And that's my job, right? Like, if it's to hear Sara perform awesome. If it's to go to a sporting event, awesome. Just it's better than being home. And I'm trying to encourage the storytellers to fill the pages.
My job is to help be the publisher in this scenario, and allow that story to be told. And then exciting people in the first instance, and then showing safety in the wider context for all people.
It's not just about women, it often gets, its women safety. People of different backgrounds, marginalised communities, you know, all suffer certain issues. And I think that that's just fundamental to, you know, like a rejuvenated approach. The good thing is we've got a strategy and the right people to work on it together.
And, you know, so much of this conversation, as we kind of said, has been led by the hospitality and alcohol industries.
We've got quite a few questions on Slido coming in about how can we revitalise the other parts of Sydney's nightlife? Like, can we work on nighttime options without an alcohol focus is one question.
Another question is, do we have plans to revitalise Sydney's nightlife without relying on events and festivals and just increasing basic local experiences like being able to go to the shops after 9pm?
Is this stuff the city's working on as well? Like, what are some tactics?
Can I jump in and then I won't talk anymore, but that's what the 24 hour economy strategy is about. It's like totally agnostic.
So diversify away from is part one, it as a counterpoint to the events and festivals which have a place by the way, and government stimulus and partnership and activation is needed to encourage safety in going out habits,
but we approach everything in our office, other agencies, students should think differently about how do we use what we've already got before we go and build something new because that's the what the strategy say, white on white, let someone else jump in on that.
I'd really love to talk very briefly about trading hours and that question, Steph, if you don't mind.
Yeah, so there are two sets of reforms that we have initiated at the City of Sydney to try and help it make it easier for people to stay open late.
The first were these late night trading our reforms that we introduced in 2018. It was the late night trading development control plan. And we had an extraordinary response, we had 10,000 people from around Sydney contribute and give feedback to our planning process, which is not normal.
And that's because people are so passionate about this. And we've got some really incredible reforms through including, you know, 24 hour training available in the city centre later hours in local centres, new trading zones and precincts in the future, including one like for the future 24 hour trading precinct in, in North Alexandria, and for unlicensed businesses to be able to apply to trade all hours or open later.
But we never got to see the outcome of that because then we went straight into bushfires, and we went straight into lockdown.
So this what I'm saying that the best is yet to come with that stuff. And there's also some changes we've made called open and creative reforms that allow businesses to extend their opening hours without requiring a development consent.
But the challenge that we're seeing, I just got someone on Twitter mentioned this, when they're saying nightlife, you can't, you know, nothing's even open at the moment.
We've got this issue with staff levels, and you know, and so, while the levers are turning, we also need staffing. And we also need people to feel safe going out in order to bring that to life into kind of power that from a human perspective.
So I just want to say some of those things are happening, but the conditions are moving against us.
We had another really great question, which I also had on my list of questions, which is when you guys think of like a vibrant city nightlife, and I'm sure some of you are fairly well travelled. I'm wondering what city is your favourite city for nightlife?
Or if you want to answer it a different way? What area of Sydney do you think is absolutely nailing it? I've put you on the spot.
I mean, I'll jump in if anyone I mean, I love Bangkok. Like I think like you can eat amazing food at all hours, you can dance all over the city, like you can buy cool stuff at 1am on the street.
Like it's just got this real 24 hour economy on the streets in an affordable and accessible way as well as all the fancy stuff. It's just got it all but Berlin for dancing. Oh my god, you know, as well.
Like they've nailed it too. So I mean, we can learn from everywhere in the world really, when it comes to night life.
I think Jess is spot on with that. But I do have to say, not that I'm biassed or anything but my father is actually originally from Egypt.
And so I've been lucky enough to go to Cairo and one of my favourite things about that city as well as Jess said is that the fact that there are things that are constantly open there's always something to do for everyone.
So whether you are into a bit more of the arts and performance and culture scene or you're into markets and shops and things like that or of course history and you know that kind of amazing yeah history and so, like the museum life is really quite big there and so I do yeah, I love Cairo. I think it's amazing.
And of course, you know, there's a lot of there's a difference in like scale between those that are at the top and those are at the bottom and that's obviously it would be remiss of me not to talk about that or to mention it but um, you know, there's I think there's a little bit of that in here in Sydney too. So something to think about.
I'm going to give a shout out to Parramatta. You know, just in between two lockdowns, I, my last job was city activation in Parramatta Artist studios.
And we did an artist led walking tour by the wonderful Rebecca Gallo and she showed us all of the places that she loves in Parramatta. And then as we came out of ICE (Information Cultural Exchange) where we just seen some amazing performance, there were the streets were heaving with people who were just walking around going from restaurant to restaurant.
And just there was this kind of really lovely kind of vibe of community meets city. And so yeah, I was gonna do a little shout out to Parramatta plus also flamenco bars in Seville. Like people making culture, like just normal people. Love it.
This is the question that I get asked the most. And what I find myself saying is that and great examples from the other panellists.
People tend to, people framing the debate tend to reference London, New York very quickly. My response to that is, none of which have any climactic relevance to what we have here in Sydney.
Firstly, so and I love my small bars as anyone who's been with me will attest, but I don't know how many people make the trek here to go and sit in the basement bar. I think you if you come out me, you'll end up there.
But the idea is that you're coming for some other reason. What I think about is, and going back to what I said right at the beginning is who's the city for who participates and the context of who were here today? And perhaps listening?
It's the student at some level, and local whether local or international and what story we tell him why they coming?
And I always reference now increasingly, you know, what we've got a lot of other places don't have is beaches? Why are they factoring into our nightlife story.
And so working with councils like Northern Beaches, and Randwick is such an opportunity to add that tapestry.
I think Sara might have mentioned that tapestry, that colour, because I want going out in Sydney to be as many options as Netflix or whatever it is at home, you know, What channel do we want to see tonight?
And let's go to and it should be affordable, accessible, you know, across those price points. And I think that that's the key, from a product perspective, if you think about this as entertainment as a product, where are the price points and where are we weak on price point? And engagement?
I think Sara sort of touched on this as well. And is that you know this is the challenge in Jess or like in the City of Sydney, it's very expensive from a rental perspective.
You talk about staff shortages, and they're relevant, but you speak to people family businesses in the suburbs, and we're all good, we got the families, we don't have a staff issue.
So, you know, the city has, I think, a particular challenge. And we're sort of working, I think, productively with the City of Sydney to try to kind of, you know, create space for arts and culture, and F&V and being all the rest of it that can you know, cater to more people essentially.
Can I just say, I mean, very quickly, the common thread that I'm hearing in this conversation tonight?
Well, you know, it's difficult to have this conversation, really without thinking about the existing structural issues that we have alluded to multiple times.
And so I think that there is something to be said, for the ethics of all this. I mean, how we do this, in that way, that as I said earlier, honours our history and thinks about that, and take, you know, takes action, concrete action on that.
And so for me, like, firstly, what that looks like, is doing it in a way that is grassroots and so that local communities are involved and consulted and that, you know, they're not displaced when things get too pricey, or when big businesses come in, you know, and take over.
And I think that actually also impacts families and communities in a way that we don't hear about often. For me, a perfect example of that, again, is to go back to BPS, because it was led by two young Western Sydney residents in consultation with other artists from the area with the art centre.
It was about nurturing and showcasing very specifically local talent, and still is, while still interacting, obviously, with other geographies around the state around the country and internationally.
You know, same can be said in a way of the Haldon night markets and the fact that they were originally locally, you know, business led, in a sense, even if they weren't officially called that they've been happening for a long time, sort of like underground pockets, where communities were leading these and and, you know, we see this in cities around the world where local citizens are leading.
Whether it's street theatres and festivals, live music and, or things like town halls and community patrols for safety, which, you know, is not anything new historically, even in Australia. So for me, the key is about outwards, looking in, sorry, not outwards, looking in rather, but inwards out, that, for me is a big principle.
And secondly, thinking about how the local economies, cultures, and communities interact with things like environment. When you have transport strikes, when you have climate change.
These are issues that are ongoing, and that do necessarily have consequences, long term consequences for safety, for how we think about the future, because they are symptoms, you know, and in order to address these symptoms, we need to look at the bigger causes and how they're all linked.
And you know, By that same token, lastly, I think we should interact with the larger kind of picture. I always say that Sydney is so big, I feel so blessed as you said, Mike, the fact that we have a beach in a park on almost every corner really or a lake or some sort of body of water in this country.
And it's so big that you could literally, you know, do something different each week and never do the same thing twice or each weekend and never do the same thing twice.
That's been my thing. And so how do we do that in a way that is nuturing and makes us thrive and honours communities across the board.
I think that's such a really great point. And I'm really interested to know I mean, I'm arts editor, I've always been an arts journalist arts is my, you know, passion, the creative arts has not really, I mean, the music industry, maybe but the creative arts more broadly has not been able to lead this conversation.
I'm wondering what's holding that back? I mean, what feedback is the City of Sydney getting about, I hear a lot about red tape issues, as you know, we talk like, we want pop up venues everywhere we want people to be able to perform where they want to perform, we want people to be able to park to load their gear, without getting massive fines.
You know, there's a lot of things that are holding us back from letting the creative culture and also communities lead rather than Big Business and Hospitality.
Yeah, I think there's a couple of things in there that are connected, you know, so affordability and price is a huge issue, you know, any city that becomes highly desirable, a city that people want to live in and study in and work in, and where there's great opportunity becomes an expensive city.
And it means that grassroots communities do get pushed out, that innovative or risky uses that may not be hugely economically lucrative get pushed out.
And unless you hold on to spaces, and there are subsidised spaces for creativity, then they can be lost. So that's a huge issue.
And the number one thing, every single day of the week, I have someone approaching me, asking me for access to space for creativity, and for connecting with audiences and making work. So that is the number the number one thing I hear.
But the other thing and this is really connected to that is around what our expectations are of living in a city.
So people can expect to have the awesome cafe on the corner, but don't like it when the milk gets delivered at 5am. And people can love having some cool small bars near them.
But it's not as fun when the glass gets collected, you know, in the middle of the night, right? So what are our expectations and obligations as urban citizens when we're living in a city, and how much you know, push and pull do we allow.
And that's the stuff when you get that sort of negative feedback. And we only hear from people who are complaining about noise or parking or whatever the issue is.
Then it, they create more, creates more cost and more of that regulation or red tape that can make it harder and more expensive for venues to thrive.
Or it can mean that live music in particular can get pushed out. So what I always say is that we need to hear as much from the people who love the music and love the cafe and love the going out for a bev as we hear from the people who you know, who don't want to be inconvenienced by it so.
And how do we get you know, venues as well to be good neighbours. And so I know that the Nighttime Industries Association are doing some really great stuff.
And they're trying to reset that expectation and say, Hey, before you complain about noise, come and talk to me. I'm just like a person. I'm your neighbour who's running a venue.
So you know, I think, what is it; who can afford to make work or present work in a city but also what expectations do we have as as residents in that city? Two things I bring to the table.
Can I just give you the third really briefly. One is what I call soft infrastructure. So we love hard infrastructure, building things.
The soft infrastructure is something that we're doing and it kind of, Jess touched on it with the approach that the City's just taken around its latest round of funding, and we have a project being launched very shortly but check out YCK or Brookvale Arts District as collectives that essentially are businesses pooling resource and, and they're creative led businesses.
So I like to think about creativity is not houses arts, culture, hospitality, it's like anyone who can who has a creative gene can, you know, attach themselves to something like that.
It's a missing piece of the collaborative spirit that is needed to allow artists and creatives to find more opportunities.
So if you look at say YCK, or Brookvale, these are districts that have sprung up partly in response to the pandemic where business models have had to improve by reducing cost, improving audience engagement, and then delivering content by collaborating with artists.
So that's another piece that is quite a big part of our strategy. And you'll hear more from us in the next four to six weeks.
Can I add a fourth thing, which is the public discourse. I think there's a disconnect between what people think about art and how they engage in it everyday.
Versus how it is discussed in our greater kind of public landscape in you know, I do mean by those who are in power as well. So I think that's often the elephant in the room.
And I think that if nothing else, the pandemic has brought home the importance of those activities.
And just how shit our life would be without them, sorry about the bleep word. But, you know, imagine pandemic, without Netflix or other such things to keep us entertained.
So that's been a good thing. It's come at some considerable cost to our creative sector. And I am personally kind of pledged in the work that I do and where I am, to do my best to kind of reverse that as we come out of this pandemic here.
I do have one final question before I'm gonna throw to Sara for a piece of her work, which I'm very excited about.
And my question is, just broadly about the future. I mean, a lot of this 24 hour economy stuff is coming with this term 'future proofing,' future proofing our cities is something that I hear about a lot. I'm wondering if anyone can speak to what that actually looks like.
I mean, you know, we're currently off the back of a pandemic going into a flood zone. How do we future proof these areas that we've been talking about tonight? And what are you excited about the future?
I don't know if it's excited. But can I like I have a kind of a dream thing that could happen.
Which is, you know, I'd love to go to a nightclub, let's go to a fantastic kind of green outdoor area, where they kind of putting art back into partying, where queer people are kind of really welcomed, where an 18 year old girl can go and, you know, that's kind of if I was to envisage like a dream.
Of what I could go out to, oh and where I can take my dogs. Yeah, that'd be great.
Can we have that but we dancing?
Oh Yeah, I forgot to mention Dancing.
Can we go right now that's sounds amazing. I'll get the boat.
Really good food as well, like really good food, like a, like a food court. But for up and coming chefs, like where you can go and get like, five bucks, you know? 10 buck snacks
Yes. All right, bar with alcohol and non alcoholic drinks, all the really cool ones that you can get right now. There you go. It's perfect. Love it
You kind of hit all the important points, really books and animals and coffee and that kind of thing.
But if I can just add on a more serious note, I think regardless of what that future looks like, for me, what I would want and what I want.
And what I fight for every day is you know, a city, a space, spaces that are actually public spaces that want people in them. That aren't public spaces that are exclusive or exclude people, whether that is our, you know, homeless communities or otherwise.
I think we really need to think about the concept of public space and what that means for communities and working on a way that brings that together that does sort of, you know, honour the sorts of issues that we've talked about today.
Yeah, I think that's really my main thing, I would love places that don't exclude.
If I can add to that, I think I would love to see a future where we feel that we are participants, and not just observers of culture in our city, you know, and that it's part of our everyday life.
And it's not a special thing that happens on a few times a year, but it's something that you're actively involved in all the time.
And I think to do that, we have to lay the groundwork and carve out space and preserve space for creativity and culture.
But we also have to, you know, change the public discourse, you know, as Carla said, and we need to change, we have to set some kind of social contract, I think of what it means to live in the city and what the benefits are, as well as the the challenges of living in a city. So that's my hot take.
And without getting in the way of Sara's award winning performance we're about to see. One word Eudaimonia. Utopia. That's my response.
All right, and on that, we are going to go to Sara. I will invite the other panellists to just turn their mics off for a second.
Sara's got a poem she's going to read us I'm really excited about it. Thank you.
Thanks very much. So a little thing we do at slams if you haven't been to Bankstown Poetry Slam and others is click when the poet you know performs a line or we hear a line that we really like.
You might want to stomp your feet so even though I can't see you trust me, I will know. I'll feel it if you aren't clicking and stomping.
So please do show this poem some love
I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people
whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect and whose laws I will uphold and obey.
I pledge my loyalty to the salty ladies baths and Bay runs to the even saltier Halal chicken nuggets and the Oliver Brown Crunchy Balls in my hot chocolate.
I pledge loyalty to the WhatsApp group I pledge loyalty to my girls and Cards Against Humanity to knowing every word of No Scrubs at Saturday night karaoke.
A scrub is a guy that thinks he's fly. He's also known as a busta.
I pledge my loyalty to my father's foreign mispronouncing our meals to the varicose veins in my mother's legs that haven't seen a day of rest.
I pledge my loyalty to my grandmothers stitching the holes in my hand me downs and the sadness in her elbows. To the basil and rosemary that grows in our garden.
I pledge loyalty to the three grey hairs to medative prayer to the cobwebs in the corner of my bookshelf and to the conversations that shift the centre.
I pledge my loyalty to the streets of Western Sydney from Haldon to Church Street and all our tight knit communities.
I pledge loyalty to funding more schools not skyscrapers, to local councils not constant amalgamation to citizens, not empty logos and gentrification.
I pledge my loyalty to Celine who's inn smells of flat whites but tastes like Turkish coffee.
You see the centre kicked her out for corporations known for their tax evasion and successful globalisation off the backs of modern day slave labour.
See Celine doesn't get an OH&S policy.
I pledge loyalty to Song lines, not coal mines to no border. No boundary, just humanity. I pledge my loyalty to the Great Barrier Reef. Bye Adani.
I pledge my loyalty to the custodians of this land, not our democratic beliefs that separate families a distorted supremacy reducing trauma to clickbait headlines that pretend to cry freedom of speech,
I pledge my loyalty to no flag just the Southern Cross. A constellation of my identities not your ideal neoliberalism and illusion of liberties see signing us up to a nationalism that's quantified by KPIs of brown bodies as PR tools for fundraisers celebrating harmony.
I pledge my loyalty to BPS my 'Slamily,' so please bring your ego and pull up a seat you are about to bear witness to some POC excellence.
I pledge my loyalty to intersectionality because it is not feminism if it excludes me.
And I pledge my loyalty to resist the laws that perpetuate inequality. Because everywhere we turn we are told not to care not to confront.
But I pledge my loyalty to measuring the world by our arts and our memory and our history. I pledge to journey across land and water and bone and ink to movement and to discovery.
I pledge to live the struggle every day. So we are all free. And I hope that you will join me.
So many clicks in there. Thank you so much. What an honour. Thank you so much Sara Saleh.
Thanks to all of our speakers for coming for making the time Sara. Michael Rodriguez, Jess Scully, Carla. Mark Scott, thank you for the opening notes.
Thanks to everyone who had questions. This is the University of Sydney, Sydney ideas event.
The podcast and the video will be online soon and for more information and to find out about upcoming events you can go to the Sydney ideas website, follow their socials, subscribe to the newsletter.
I know that they are, we're all really looking forward to welcoming audiences back in person in the flesh.
I cannot wait to see these people that I've just been speaking to again. I'm Steph Harmon. Good night. Thanks everyone for coming
Mike believes in the inspirational power of cities and spends a good amount of time encouraging anyone in his orbit to get out of the house, to know their city and to have more fun. While working as a lawyer in the Middle East, he spotted an opportunity to launch global lifestyle brand Time Out in Sydney in 2007 to achieve these aims.
In the 15 years at the helm of Time Out Australia he grew the brand across print, digital, event and social channels, which now reaches 1million Australians monthly. He also co-founded the Time Out Bar Awards and the Time Out Food Awards. Time Out’s contribution to our cities was recently recognised in 2020 when Time Out was awarded the Mumbrella Publish Awards Publishing Company of the Year, and Mike himself was awarded Publish Leader of the Year.
Since 2017 and prompted by the challenges facing Sydney's night time economy, Mike has focussed his efforts on aligning and empowering industry to actively engage in the political process in order to effect change. This saw him take a leading role in launching an independent bars association for Sydney in May 2018, followed by the launch of a Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) in November 2018 of which he was the inaugural Chair.
In February Mike was announced as the State of NSW’s first 24-Hour Economy Commissioner, a role that commenced formally on 29 March 2021.
Mike is also co-host of leading hospitality podcast Back of House, a board member of UNSW Art & Design’s advisory council and a board member of Torrens University Hospitality advisory council.
Fun Fact: Mike worked as a trainee civil engineer for Leighton Contractors on the Homebush Bay Rail Link in the lead up to the 2000 Games.
Sara Saleh is an award-winning Arab-Australian human rights activist, writer and poet living and learning on Gadigal Land (Sydney). A longtime campaigner for refugee rights and racial justice, Sara has spent the last decade working with international organisations, including Amnesty International and CARE International in Australia and the Middle East. Her work has focused on media advocacy, law and policy change, and has taken her from the refugee camps of Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Syrian border, to the streets of Western Sydney.
Sara holds a Bachelor of Social Sciences – Government (Class I Honours) from the University of Sydney, and a Masters of Human Rights Law/Policy from UNSW, where she is currently completing her Juris Doctor, concentrating on police accountability, the prison industrial complex, and the incarceration/detention of marginalised populations.
Sara’s first poetry collection was released in August 2016. Her poems have been published in English and Arabic in SBS Life, Australian Poetry Journal, Meanjin, Cordite Poetry Review, Bankstown Poetry Collections and global anthologies A Blade of Grass, Making Mirrors, and Solid Air. She regularly speaks and performs nationally and internationally, and her writing has appeared in The Guardian, Fairfax, SBS, and Junkee.
Sara is co-editor of the recently released anthology, Arab, Australian, Other: Stories on Race and Identity (Picador 2019), and is developing her debut novel as a recipient of the Affirm Press Mentorship for Sweatshop Writers. She is a proud Bankstown Poetry Slam ‘Slambassador’.
Jess is a curator who uses creativity to build a sustainable and inclusive future. In 2019 she was elected as Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney.
Jess has charted a unique career over twenty years; founding ground-breaking festival Vivid Ideas, Australia’s largest creative industries event; supporting emerging talent through projects such as the Qantas Spirit of Youth Awards; undertaking structural interventions for culture as a policy advisor; transforming public space as a public art curator and telling stories as a radio host and magazine editor.
As a Councillor, Jess seeks to expand who plays a role in shaping the life of the city. She is working on reviving nightlife and supporting creative production, opening up public space for more people-first uses and advocating for new models to address the housing crisis.
Her first book, Glimpses of Utopia, was published by Pantera Press in August 2020.
Carla Theunissen was recently appointed to the role of Senior Manager Place Activation and Strategy with the Sydney Olympic Park Authority.
Previously, Carla worked with the City of Parramatta in a variety of cultural programs including Parramatta Artist Studios and the City’s CBD activation program.
Before moving into local government Carla had a career in the major events and cultural sector. She was an Associate Director of Sydney Festival, and programmed many ticketed events, including Bjork on the Sydney Opera House forecourt, Grace Jones and Brian Wilson in the Domain, All Tomorrow’s Parties on Cockatoo Island, Beck’s Festival Bar at Hyde Park Barracks and Bacardi Latina Festival at Darling Harbour.
As the first Head of Music for Sydney Opera House, Carla set the framework for the venue’s new music program, securing Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson to curate Vivid Live. Carla was also the first Director for Q Theatre in Auckland’s CBD, setting up and opening the new $22m arts centre centre in 2011. Other roles include Interim Director/CEO for Bankstown-based theatre company Urban Theatre Projects, Producer for Sydney Theatre Company, Administrator for Bangarra Dance Theatre, and consulting for creative sector organisations including Create NSW, the Australia Council and Vivid Ideas.
Steph is Culture Editor of Guardian Australia. Prior to the Guardian, Steph was the founding editor of Australian pop culture site Junkee, the editor of Sydney's music and arts street press The Brag, and founding editor of Sydney arts website Throw Shapes. She tweets from @stephharmon.
Event banner: Photo by Stanley Cheung on Unsplash