Posted: 06 May. 2019 5 min. read

Once-in-a-generation opportunity to create Sydney's night culture

What does it take to make a great night-time city?

What does it take to make a great night-time city? Exciting events, superb food and fabulous venues are a big part of it, of course. But it also takes coordination and vision, says James Hulme, Director of Advocacy for the Committee for Sydney, an independent think tank that aims to help make Sydney a competitive and liveable global city. James spoke with us about the challenges and the opportunities ahead for night-time Sydney.

"When you think about some of the major events that are closely associated with Sydney, the city has a fantastic night-time offer. New Year’s Eve, Mardi Gras, the Lunar New Year, the Vivid Festival – these are hugely popular events that bring millions of people into the city. We have exciting and active night-time precincts – Chinatown, Darling Harbour, Little Korea in Strathfield, Church Street in Parramatta, for example. So Sydney does have a really vibrant night life.

One challenge we face is that we have an incredibly strong brand around the natural environment – beaches, the climate, our fantastic harbour – but we don’t necessarily promote Sydney’s culture, particularly its night-time offer and multi-cultural night life. It seems a shame, given that they are such integral parts of Sydney.

You need effective planning and coordination for a night-time economy – or a 24-hour economy, as we like to call it – and you need a vision for what that looks like. Other cities have made this a core part of their branding, and they’ve got the governance structure right. Cities with a reputation for great nightlife have introduced things like a night mayor or a night-time coordinator – like in Amsterdam, New York or London. It helps in developing a strong narrative and making sure that there’s action at a government level.

That’s something that we would like to see Sydney focus on – a central coordinating figure within state government, reporting directly to the Premier. You need key government departments working collaboratively, particularly around planning and transport, and you need to work with the private sector to ensure that regulation doesn’t strangle night-time activities. 

Sydney’s public transport at night can be patchy, and is sometimes a factor in putting people off going out, because they might have to wait around a long time to get home or pay for an expensive taxi journey. Safety and diversity are also important – you need to work with venues and operators to ensure you’re offering activities for a broad range of people and safe places to go at night.

It’s essential to recognise there isn’t one homogenous night-time economy – there’s a twilight economy between about 6pm and 9pm, which is very different to the later night economy from 9pm into the morning hours. The city needs to plan for these different elements, rather than treat it all as one time zone.

We also don’t talk enough about the great night-time offer in Western Sydney. It’s hugely important, given that we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create urban realms with great walkability, great access to public transport and a great night-time offer. As we develop more of Western Sydney, yes, we need the right housing and public transport and green spaces, but let’s also think about cultural amenities – music venues, theatres, rehearsal spaces. Because if we can get it right, we can spark new creative and cultural industries. If we get it wrong, it’ll mean people having to travel long distances to access culture, and that would be a great tragedy. 

Sydney is in a race for talent. We have lots of advantages – fantastic quality of life, a broad range of different industries; but we also have challenges – we are an expensive city, with a high cost of living. We know that one of the factors in attracting businesses and working people, as well as start-ups and entrepreneurs, is culture and entertainment. If we struggle to offer that, it’s going to impact on the productivity and competiveness of the city.

I hope that in 10 to 15 years’ time we’re much more of a public-transport orientated city, and that we have embraced the great arts and culture and music that Sydney makes. I hope that we are regarded as one of the great cities for culture – particularly culture at night."

More about the author

Nicola Alcorn

Nicola Alcorn

Managing Partner, Sydney

Niki Alcorn is the Office Managing Partner for Sydney. She is a Technology, Media and Telecommunications specialist and a Strategy Partner in the Consulting team. Niki has over 12 years of experience in corporate and business unit strategy, digital strategy and business transformation projects, working with many leading Australian organisations within TMT and more broadly.