A few years ago, this firm was appointed to market the Bennelong Apartments which run from 1-7 Macquarie Street, Sydney, some people might remember the building being nicknamed ‘the toaster’. Despite a fair amount of mixed rhetoric at the time, Bennelong has proven to be the foundation development in the arrival of high-end apartments in the Sydney CBD.

One of the marketing headlines, and one I think (with modesty) was very clever at the time read: “Buy the Second-Best House in The Street.” With the assumption being that the best house in the street was of course the Sydney Opera House. A cunning comparison, but one that I wanted to use to introduce the importance and value of culture in helping to create and then sustain vibrant urban project areas.

Culture and cultural facilities are an essential infrastructure that tends to be in the shadow of other more vigorous projects like light-rail, metro lines or airports. However, cities need a balance of all forms of infrastructure ranging across economic facilities and transport, to environmental and cultural facilities to create vibrant and interesting places to live. The Bennelong copy played upon that obvious link.

Another example I saw recently is the new $60m civic centre now being finished in the centre of Shellharbour. The centre will have a 350-seat auditorium and 2000sqm civic plaza set to host concerts and market stalls. The Concourse Chatswood, one of Sydney’s leading entertainment venues, home to a wide range of live arts and entertainment, is another example of how governments, local government in this case, and planners see the value of linking cultural facilities with development.

Culture and Liveability

Cities that are often ranked highly in surveys as among the world’s most liveable, including many in Australia, score well because they combine history, dynamic locations, and strong economies with an active and diverse culture offering. Not only in a built form but with festivals and not forgetting sports, which are all part of our modern urban culture.

The combination of economic infrastructure and social and cultural infrastructure are essential elements in making cities attractive to visit and live in. Planning needs to and does consider facilities like museums, theatres and stadiums because without these, commercial space, offices, hotels and apartments don’t really work. When cities don’t have planning policies in place that encourage vibrant developments, visitors, workers and residents complain that an area of city lacks a ‘heart’. Resulting in places that are dull at best and even worse, tedious.

Local Culture is Important

Culture does not have to be on the scale of the Sydney Opera House or other big headline locations it also comes down to a community level. Valuable and important cultural infrastructure includes things like the local markets or community events in a neighbourhood park. These events create and sustain the cultural fabric of our urban areas, and as more people live in apartments such activity takes on even greater importance.

Culture builds social cohesion and can help transform run-down and impoverished areas into vibrant communities, what’s described as ‘creative placemaking’. “Creative City Sydney” which is described as making Sydney a more creative and vibrant place to live, work and visit is very much tied into this idea.

According to the program’s web site the City of Sydney spends more than $36.5 million in Sydney’s cultural life. This includes big events like NYE and Art & About Sydney, and funds for major festivals, commissioning and maintaining public artworks and providing community based support and funding. Sydney is not alone and many cities across the world have identical cultural themes operating at local, state and national levels.

All of which makes it very clear that the role of art and culture lies at the heart of great cities both big and small. It helps define their appeal and why we want to live in and visit these cities. A city without art and culture is unthinkable.

Approximately 80% of the population in the developing world will live in cities by 2030, understanding how creativity in its widest sense can be used to make cities more sustainable and liveable is important? The aim of Creative City Sydney and other such programs is for art in all its forms, including performing and visual arts, literature, architecture, music, sports and public space to make cities more appealing.

Public spaces are extremely important – they give shape and form to a city and help to define and give structure to the quality of life. Think about parks, playing fields, plazas, beaches, waterways (Sydney without Sydney Harbour!) and public buildings are all considered public spaces and are important as social assets.

The reality is that culture and the arts make an enormous contribution to the economy of a city, and like the Bennelong example I mentioned earlier, access to culture is an important element helping to nourish projects where we live.

How much value can be attributed to this is hard to count in cold hard facts and figures. How much would you pay to have the Sydney Opera House or the Victorian Arts Centre as your neighbour?

In general terms, I’ve seen estimates that range anywhere between a factor of three and five of what the arts cost and what they contribute back to cities in revenues and taxes, in activity, in tourism, secondary businesses etc.

Culture plays a vital role in the economy of cities – without the fundamental core facet of culture and the arts less of us will want to live in cities. The city and the arts relate to each other, and interplay at every level – economic, social, and cultural.

The populations of cities in developing counties are exploding and many more of us now live and will in the future live in higher-density housing. All levels of government, planners and private developers greatly value and consider the vital role of culture and creativity in urban planning, in creating appealing places to live. And so, do buyers as they move into more high-density housing culture and the arts blend the community and make cities thought-provoking and motivating places.