Paddington Society Annual Dinner

Victoria Barracks, 30 August 2012.

Cities are dynamic entities, constantly in flux. City streets, too, have their golden moments, then the balance shifts and they struggle.

Oxford Street is no exception. From an Aboriginal pathway to a Macquarie-era road it developed a vigorous commercial life, became a victim of its own success, overcrowded with traffic and degenerating to little more than a slum, then a haven firstly for migrants, later for gays escaping suburbia. In their wake came restoration and gentrification, Oxford Street as a fashion hub and design-conscious precinct.

In their excellent history of the street, Clive Faro and Garry Wotherspoon note how in the four years from 1984, following the gay invasion, the value of the office building at Number One Oxford Street rocketed from $61.8 million to $95 million.

They also record its history as a place of parades - whether the 1898 march remembering the Irish uprising of 1798, the military parades of the first World War, Henry Lawson's funeral cortege in 1922 or later the processional arrivals of President Lyndon Johnson, and the Pope, and of course, the glamour and sometimes shockingness of Mardi Gras.

Oxford Street provides the perfect example of how even apparently robust places are delicately poised. A street that throughout its history has flourished, waned, and flourished again is now struggling.

Giant Westfield developments at either end have posed a challenge for Oxford Street retailers; relentless heavy traffic and the RTA-imposed clearway, makes for a hostile pedestrian environment; and on-line shopping is affecting businesses across Sydney.

But Oxford Street has all the elements it needs to emerge stronger than ever from the current downturn, and the City is doing all it can to shape a solid future for one of our great streets.

It has distinctive heritage streetscape; the Courthouse; the wonderful Paddington Town Hall, which we're now restoring; institutions such as CoFA and the National Art School, bookshops and cinemas; St Vincent's Hospital and Notre Dame University; and of course Paddington Reservoir Gardens.

Last year we called for expressions of interest for a number of council-owned properties, we were overwhelmed by the response, with well over 200 requests for information, and 52 very high quality submissions received

From January this year, 16 tenants in the cultural and creative sectors took up spaces in our first floor properties, with 3 galleries at street level, providing a mix of commercial and non-profit organisations working in design, film, music, transmedia and screen writing, and City staff are now working with them to secure their tenancies into the future. Currently on reduced rates for people in the creative industries and partial start-ups.

Our surveys show that this project has brought about 120 workers into the area and 1,000 more visitors a quarter.

The tenants spend on average $8,500 a week on local goods and services and the three retail tenants have represented over 200 artists during the quarter.

AroundYou (events website) have been so successful and we have learnt just this week that they have grown so quickly in the last 6 months that they have outgrown their office space at 66 Oxford Street.

Success in Oxford Street has prompted us to develop similar plans to extend the creative hub for other Council properties in William Street and last night I officially opened Cloth Fabric (corner Palmer/William Streets) - quite beautiful and unique cloth fabric designs, you should check them out.

At the other end of Oxford Street, around CoFA, we're developing a new green public space at the intersection of Oxford and Napier Streets, with a terraced garden providing space for coffee pit-stops, pop-up events, or just relaxing.

At Three Saints Square, we've worked with local residents and businesses to upgrade a small park on the Victoria Street side, install art work, new turf and seats and next month, planter boxes will be added.

City staff are also trialling self-managed planter boxes for Oxford Street retailers. A successful trial will lead to a broader roll-out next year.

Other initiatives include public art with temporary installations at Taylor Square to the next go on display in September - Windgrid, WindLab and Windwalk, a collaboration between National Art School students and British artist Tim Knowles. We have temporary installations at Paddington Reservoir Gardens.

Festivals also provide opportunities to promote Oxford Street - from the Sydney Sustainable Markets, Crave Sydney Food Festival to the Sydney Rides.

We worked with Renew Australia to activate privately owned vacant properties.

We've developed a framework to identify the preferred business mix for City-owned properties which can also be used by private landowners, estate agents and local businesses to realise the economic goals for the Oxford Street village.

Our Grants program supports the Paddington and Darlinghurst Business Partnerships and we are committed to partner with Woollahra Council on Oxford Street issues and I acknowledge Mayor Susan Wynne here tonight.

Long-term, Oxford Street needs kerb side parking restored and a light-rail connection to the east, both State responsibilities.

In the meantime, however, it has many of the elements in place that will assure its future as a cultural and creative centre, and we at the City will keep working with retailers, businesses and the Oxford Street institutions to help this great street thrive again.
Thank you.