Vivid Sydney 2016, opening night, Clr Quay, Harbour Lights. 27/5/2016 Photo credit - James Horan/Destination NSW

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By John Moyle

Imagine a Sydney that never sleeps, where the cover of darkness is banished, the streets are alive until the sun comes up – a Sydney as vibrant as Berlin, Amsterdam, London or New York.

In the aforementioned cities 24-hour cafes, supermarkets, gyms, cinemas and clubs give residents and visitors a freedom from the restraints of a nine to five routine.

This is the vision that the Committee for Sydney has laid out in its comprehensive study “Sydney as a 24-Hour City”.

“It’s definitely a realistic vision,” said James Hulme, the Committee’s Director of Advocacy.

“There are already many examples of great night-time activities across Greater Sydney, but it could be better planned, coordinated and promoted.”

Last year the United Nations’ New Urban Agenda stated that by 2050 more than 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities and large towns, and emphasised the enormous economic impact of these urban environments operating 24-hours.

“At the moment, in some parts of the city it can be difficult to find a restaurant open beyond 9.30pm, shops open beyond 6pm or even get a cup of coffee after 4pm,” Mr Hulme said.

“No city has completely cracked the 24-hour economy, but it’s important that Sydney heads in the right direction – look at Melbourne – it has embraced the night-time economy and now has a reputation as a vibrant and liveable city, both during the day and at night.”

The Committee found that only 46 per cent of Sydneysiders were satisfied with current night time offerings, with 45 per cent of people over 35 saying that they were satisfied with cinema options, 42 per cent with live theatre and music, and 48 per cent satisfied with dining out choices.

Those aged 18 to 35 want more live sport, movies, live theatre, pubs, dining out and shopping with an average satisfaction rating of around 30 per cent.

More than 72 per cent of 18 to 35 year olds surveyed said that they would stay out later if they had access to all-night public transport, an option not offered to revellers in Kings Cross and the CBD pre-lockout laws.

The Committee’s report places Sydney’s night time economy as being 23 per cent of the total of the city’s 24-hour spend, compared to London’s 34 per cent and Berlin’s 36 per cent.

Analysing by region, residents of the Lower North Shore are Sydney’s highest late night spenders, accounting for 24 per cent of the total, closely followed by the CBD at 21 per cent, with Sutherland Shire and the Northern Beaches at 11 and 10 per cent respectively.

The Parramatta area recorded a night time spend of 20 per cent.

Comparing Sydney to Melbourne, people in the southern city spent twice as much as those of Sydney at night in bars and restaurants and six times more on cinema and theatre, while Sydney spent almost four times as much on groceries.

“In Sydney we tend to spend money in the evenings in pubs and on groceries, but not necessarily other areas,” Mr Hulme said.

Just a few years ago the perception was that Sydney was the ‘city that never sleeps’ with Kings Cross and the CBD seeing up to a hundred thousand late night revellers over a weekend.

“Unfortunately, the NSW Government’s lockout laws have had a serious impact on Sydney’s night time economy,” a City of Sydney spokesperson said.

“We will keep advocating for change to the laws, but in the mean-time we need government, business and industry to work together to find ways to boost our night-time culture.”

From experience in Melbourne and overseas it is clear that any way forward needs a whole of government approach to blend the ingredients necessary to vitalise the night.

“Create NSW is leading the NSW Government’s Night-Time Economy Taskforce which includes 16 NSW Government agencies and the City of Sydney to identify opportunities in the Sydney CBD and Kings Cross precincts,” a Create NSW spokesperson said.

The Taskforce is investigating options to bring together the best opportunities for arts, screen, culture, hospitality, transport, retail and live music to create a diverse cultural experience for both residents and visitors.

The City of Sydney spokesperson emphasised “it’s critical we support and sustain nightlife and culture by minimising red tape for new businesses, creative projects and cultural spaces”.

Kylie Legge, Principal for Place Partners, a business specialising in reshaping public spaces, suggested that a 24-hour economy was about more than pubs and clubs.

“I worry about the city where we designate certain things to certain areas, and what you do is to create unhealthy clusters where some are designated for alcohol,” she said.

“All people need to be able to feel welcome in a public space, as socialisation is a key to a healthy community.”

It is obvious that a lot more work needs to be done to get Sydney back even to the level exuberance it possessed in the eighties, let alone bring it to the standard of the world’s great cities.

Removing the lockout laws would be a good start.