Design Excellence Forum: Cultural Precinct Planning

(6.30pm, Tuesday 2 September 2014, Sydney Town Hall)

Thank you, Fenella, [Kernebone, MC]. Hello, everyone, welcome to Town Hall.

And a special welcome to our guests this evening:

  • Our keynote speaker, Adrian Ellis, Director of Global Cultural Precincts Network
  • Dr Michael Brand, Director of the Art Gallery of NSW
  • Ms Rose Hiscock, Director, Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences
  • Dr Alex Byrne, Head of the State Library of NSW
  • Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, Director of the MCA
  • Malcolm Snow, Chief Executive of the National Capital Authority
  • Professor Peter Tregear, Head of the School of Music at ANU and
  • Bruce Baird, Chairman of the Tourism and Transport Forum and board member of the Sydney Theatre Company

Over the next decade, cities around the world will invest more than $250 billion in US dollars in creating or supporting cultural precincts.

Why this massive investment? Because international and local research all shows that cultural precincts promote a city's global reputation, they help lift its economic performance, and they help build a stronger community.

They play a significant role in the health of cities, drive new ideas and help us re-think the places in which we live.

They can ensure the city can compete in a global economy driven by knowledge and ideas.

Sydney is no exception, and the next decade gives us the opportunity to forge those connections.

At a time when many of our leading cultural institutions are planning ambitious new capital development projects, it is important to look at the relationship and connectivity between some of our most loved buildings and our most precious public spaces.

These projects will give us an opportunity to re-energise the city centre, improve public amenity, provide a richer experience for local and international visitors, strengthen people's awareness and connection with Sydney's history and heritage.

When we spoke to the broadest possible cross-section of Sydney people for our Sustainable Sydney 2030, it became increasingly evident that people wanted the city to include a broad network of cultural precincts, reflecting the perceived benefits of interconnection, to people and to the institutions themselves.

Proximity to new ideas and new activities provides greater opportunities for artists, designers, architects, musicians, curators, producers, writers and other creative workers, helping the city to achieve a creative critical mass.

The major institutions are the anchors but we also need the seed-beds formed by the clusters of young creatives, the ones who refresh the cultural mix, forge new paths and who, of course, are also a significant audience for the major institutions.

In response to that call, we developed the Cultural Ribbon, one of 10 key projects in the strategy. It aims to reinforce and extend the sequence of cultural institutions which - partly by accident, partly by design - are strung along a spectacular harbour front, from Darling Harbour to Woolloomooloo, with the Opera House making a pretty fabulous half-way house!

The Barangaroo redevelopment will make this foreshore fully accessible for the first time in living memory and the redevelopment itself will include a new cultural centre at its northern point.

Our Cultural Ribbon project focuses attention on this unique confluence of nature and culture, refashioning it as an utterly unique cultural precinct.

It will include public domain and way-finding improvements, interpretation of the rich indigenous and European history, and strategies to bring creativity out of the buildings and into the public spaces along the harbour.

Its key points include the Maritime Museum, Sydney Aquarium, Barangaroo, Sydney Theatre and Wharf Theatre, the MCA, Customs House, the Opera House, Farm Cove and the Art Gallery of NSW.

But the ribbon is by no means the only cultural precinct: others include the Australian Museum and Hyde Park; the Sydney Observatory and Argyle Place, the Conservatorium and the Museum of Sydney, and the Macquarie Street treasures of the State Library, the Mint, and Hyde Park Barracks and of course, CarriageWorks at Redfern.

The public spaces around these buildings can be activated with temporary events and programs, and amenities designed to extend the time visitors spend in the area. We will work over the next five years with the institutions and the NSW Government to amplify these opportunities.

While the City at present invests more than $35 million each year to support the arts and creativity - from our Pine Street centre to Sydney Festival - we also realised we can play an important enabling role through our planning and regulatory powers.

The City has just released its first-ever Cultural Policy, Creative City, following an extensive public consultation in which we received 2,350 submissions, heard from 1646 members of the public and talked to 650 artists and creative workers. I know many of you here tonight took part in that process, working with Rachel Healy, the City's Executive Manager - Culture.

At the core of that policy is the development of a multi-layered, accessible and visible culture, manifest in our Cultural Ribbon and other creative precincts in the city, and across our City villages, nurturing the imagination and creativity that are essential for us to thrive - as individuals, and as a great global city.

We can also use forums like this to generate new ideas and new partnerships that will take Sydney's creative profile to the next level - and beyond! That is why it is so important to have you all here this evening.

Thank you for your interest and I look forward to this evening's discussion.