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Bold new plan to revitalize Sydney’s CBD needs action

The pandemic has taken a toll on CBDs in all major cities around the world and Sydney is no exception.

With many people working from home and watching Netflix rather than going out, CBD businesses are suffering more than neighborhood stores, where people still go to buy basic necessities.

Last year’s three-month lockdown turned bustling centers such as George Street, Oxford Street and The Rocks into ghost towns. After a brief recovery at the end of last year, early signs indicate that Omicron’s soft lockdown has been nearly as devastating as an official lockdown.

According to the Reserve Bank of Australia, around 15% of retail space in Sydney’s CBD was empty in October, a record high and three times higher than during the global financial crisis.

Against this backdrop, the Committee for Sydney, a government and business-backed think tank, has released a report titled A reinvented Sydney with ideas on how to attract people to the CBD and encourage them to stay there longer.

Recommendations include building an amphitheater somewhere in the city for outdoor performances, closing some streets to traffic after 6:30 p.m. and opening a 24-hour market. He says cultural institutions should receive subsidies to stay open late at night.

To attract young people, car parks could be converted into skate parks and outdoor spaces would be made available to budding musicians.

These are promising ideas that are in line with other global cities such as London, Singapore, Paris and New York. They have all tried to reduce the dominance of private cars, improve public transport, encourage people to live and work in the CBD, and create more walkable streets that express their city’s culture.

In some ways, Sydney is already heading in that direction. Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore has fought to create walkways and encourage small bars. The light rail has reshaped George Street. When the Sydney and South West Metro opens in 2024, the area around the new Barangaroo, Park Street and Upper Martin Place stations is set to become exciting neighborhoods. The NSW government is replacing its fleet of stinky diesel buses with quieter, cleaner electric vehicles.

Old life will return to Sydney when the federal government drops border restrictions for tourists and international students. But it will take more if Sydney’s CBD is to regain the vibrancy it lost during the pandemic and regain its place as a must-visit global destination.

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