Sydney’s CBD has passed its sell-by date

Our central business districts will not recover from COVID. Office vacancy rates in the Sydney and Parramatta CBDs remain stubbornly high. And ideas like returning employees to the office five days a week or the Inner West Council’s proposal to charge higher rents for landlords who can’t get tenants won’t make things the way they once were.

Sydney's CBDs are more likely to have a forward rather than backward recovery from COVID.

Sydney’s CBDs are more likely to have a forward rather than backward recovery from COVID. Credit:Jessica Hromas

Our CBDs will leap forward, not back. They will recover on a completely different path in 2023. Over the course of the pandemic, the NSW Government has invested $66 million to reinvent the way our central urban areas function. Programs to move restaurants to the streets and public spaces, pop-up events, new sidewalks and bike lanes, and reduced controls over music, retail, and food and beverage service have all changed the way we walk the streets experience the city.

CBDs are a concept that has passed its sell-by date. The term “Central Business District” was coined by white, middle-class male planners in the 1930s and 40s.

And it worked. While the pandemic threatened to destroy thousands of jobs in the urban services sector, street activation has created more than 13,500 jobs in CBDs across NSW. The lesson is that we need to experiment more with the use of our public spaces instead of retreating to office towers.

CBDs are a concept that has passed its sell-by date. The term “Central Business District” was coined by white, middle-class, male planners in Chicago in the 1930s and ’40s, based on the notion that cities function most efficiently when diverse groups work, live, and play in different boroughs. CBDs were designed to be used by middle-class white businessmen Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They were never really designed to involve anyone else.

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Central areas of cities should be inclusive places, their buildings more than filing cabinets for office workers. Since ancient times, the centers of cities have served as the centers of society. Ancient planners concentrated the commercial center around the theatre, agora and forum, not away from them.

Separating CBDs from cultural, sporting, and other social infrastructures has always been a bad idea. The recovery from COVID gives us an opportunity to rethink CBDs as key districts for everyone, not just businesses. They should be central social quarters where people go because they want to be there, not just because the office is there.

Future CBDs will be better places. What we eat, how we socialize and what we wear will change dramatically. Here are three trends to watch:

https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/the-cbd-is-dead-long-live-the-central-social-district-20221228-p5c92i.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_national_nsw Sydney’s CBD has passed its sell-by date

Callan Tansill

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