THE AUSTRALIAN ART CURATOR BLOG: SYDNEY'S COMMUNITY PROBLEM

This week - more than ever - I’ve got community on my mind. The hubs where communities play - our high streets - are changing dramatically. And not for the better. They aren’t the buzzy, communal areas they once were, where people shopped, ate, drank, got light entertainment and met with friends and other members of the community.

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One of those reasons is changing patterns in retail - ie. preference for online shop, The Iconic, over going for a walk to the nearest shopping centre. But in Australia (in particular Sydney) there are some big barriers to having these buzzing high streets. Clue: government loves them.

They’re called roads. Big, wide, busy, fast roads. Parramatta Road, Redfern’s Regent Street and even parts of Woollahra - where the roar of busy traffic deters even the street-wise young adult, let alone concerned parents with young children.

Compare this with Europe - where nearly every major city there has a large, heavily  pedestrianised central square, or piazza. Why don’t we have more things like this? We’re starting to see it in hubs like Chippendale’s Central Park and Spice Alley. But there should be spaces where any age from three to 93 can come to, sit and be part of the community. It’s no wonder people would rather stay home and watch Netflix than wander down the road.

In Amsterdam, this square has become a temporary hive of activity with an activation. Super pedestrian friendly! Credit: Art Pharmacy Consulting

In Amsterdam, this square has become a temporary hive of activity with an activation. Super pedestrian friendly! Credit: Art Pharmacy Consulting

Don’t get me wrong. There are so many incredible small businesses, and some larger ones, who are actively placemaking in this city. It’s all about supporting them and making them shine, and supporting the grassroots to the benefit of the whole community, instead of weakening them (sometimes mortally) for the privileged few.

In this environment, Sydney’s nightlife in particular is really struggling. Isolated incidents have ruined the night time economy of this city and with increasingly difficult regulations for events, tightening of licensing laws and a decrease in nightlife diversity has made it just too hard or too expensive for businesses to create a happening nightlife scene.

It’s vital to encourage growth in the cultural sector, particularly in the nighttime communities. But there’s the argument that a lot of communities already have a rich culture. It's just that locals and visitors don’t know how to experience it, or even that it exists. That’s why it’s important to create experiences that introduce people to one another.

Small bars are thriving in Sydney’s CBD - but what’s happening in the other community hubs? Credit: Culture Scouts

Small bars are thriving in Sydney’s CBD - but what’s happening in the other community hubs? Credit: Culture Scouts

I talk to a lot of companies who say they want to promote these communities - and I genuinely believe a lot of them do. But some of them seem to have difficulty truly relating to the people in these communities. They might have done a quick Google on their iPhone, or even have commissioned the market research, but that doesn’t tell them the full story.

Same for visitors to Sydney. To get to know, strengthen, and maybe even become part of a community, you need to get bums out of office chairs; feet on the streets, and actually meeting the community. In particular the creatives and small business owners.

We want to get people out exploring Sydney’s communities again. Credit: Culture Scouts/Jodie Barker

We want to get people out exploring Sydney’s communities again. Credit: Culture Scouts/Jodie Barker

So how can we make this happen? It’s a big job, make no mistake. This month we’ll be sharing ideas, case studies and interviews on how we can start to make a dent. Keep an eye out for more …