May 20, 2022 | By Joyce DiMascio | Image: Tourism Australia

Missed part one of this story? Read it here.

The Committee for Sydney CEO Gabriel Metcalf believes in the importance of cities as well as their smaller neighbourhoods.

“Town centres can provide a heart of daily life for neighbourhoods, for suburbs, all over Greater Sydney if they are planned right.”

He says if the neighbourhood is walkable, it makes all the difference.

“The sort of very normal daily experiences of being able to walk to your local high street and get a cup of coffee is the kernel of urbanism itself. People getting around on foot and spending time in public.

“Those simple joys of daily life are what make up an experience of urbanism. Sydney is now finding a way to provide that to everyone,” he says.

Was it COVID that accelerated finding the simple joys of daily life in our own neighbourhoods or part of a grand urban plan that we are just now valuing more as a society?

Metcalf thinks it was a cultural change well underway that COVID supercharged, by making it possible for people to spend more time closer to home, rediscovering what was close at-hand.

He also welcomes the massive investment that is occurring in key parts of Sydney like Quay Quarter, Circular Quayand the Bays precinct around Glebe, including White Bay around Anzac Bridge on the western side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

“Circular Quay has received a lot of both public and private investment in the last five years. The pedestrianisation of George Street leads right up to Circular Quay. The light rail runs right to Circular Quay. The plaza has been redone. So the public realm got a significant upgrade but at the same time, private capital has gone into new high-rises that are really well designed.

He says the new high-rise developments have provided a lot of amenity at the ground level for the public, especially in the new Quay Quarter, which he thinks is a great front door to the city.

Committee for Sydney CEO Gabriel Metcalf

He hopes that someday Sydney figures out what to do about the “elevated motorway” which separates the people from the waterfront.

“I think there’s always a tension in every city today between the forces of capital and the open democratic nature of city life. And I think the way the compromise works in a healthy city, is that the ground plane is for the public and the real estate up above is for private use.

“The public deserves buildings that are well designed at the ground plane and provide an offering, a porosity and activation and life. That is what developers need to offer in exchange for the right to build up into the air.

“I don’t think the public needs free access to the entire building, but the ground plane is for the public.”

Asked what he’s most excited about in the future of Sydney and Metcalf singles out the importance of the Sydney Metro. What’s been done so far is only the start, he says.

“It only really works to its full potential when you have many, many lines crisscrossing each other. A network of turn-up-and-go public transport that allows you to get from anywhere, to anywhere, without having to drive.

“At the more intimate level of the of the human scale, I am most excited about reclaiming the high streets of Sydney for public life, making them places that give less emphasis toward maximising the throughput of traffic and instead, emphasise creating places for people to spend time together in public.

“And I’m really excited about high streets because they are part of the original structure of Sydney. Sydney was originally developed around local shopping streets. They are in every part of Sydney. And that is where we can create experiences of urbanism as part of everyday life for everyone in Sydney.”

In the vision for Sydney, the Committee for Sydney also sees the importance of events of all kinds. He recognises the events industry had an incredibly difficult time over the past two years.

“There were many parts of the economy that, surprisingly, were able to go on perfectly fine during COVID. But all of the sectors that involve face-to-face experiences were crushed.

“Music, bars, restaurants, culture, and, of course, business events. I think the sector was healthy before COVID and its fundamentals are solid. I think we have every reason to expect that it will come back.

But there is a challenge for business events.

“The only big risk I see, is that the world may be a bit slow to return to business travel.”

Metcalf is confident that Sydney’s huge appeal will prevail.

“The sector should be quite healthy. Groups like Business Events Sydney have a critical role to play in rebuilding this part of Sydney’s economy. It’s important both for hospitality, filling hotel beds and restaurants, but also important for business more broadly – for learning, networking and engagement.

“The work right now of selling Sydney and reminding the world that Sydney is open for business is a critical part of the recovery,” he said.