Sydney mulls over free public transport, 24-hour market and skate ramps to reboot CBD

The state government has already launched a range of measures to try to entice people back to the city. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY - The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on Sydney's city centre, prompting the authorities to consider creative options to woo back visitors and workers, including creating car-free areas for outdoor dining and performances, building skate ramps and offering free public transport.

Like other major cities around the world, Sydney's Central Business District (CBD) has struggled in the past two years as people worked from home and avoided crowded public spaces. Previously bustling shops, cafes and other retail businesses have been forced to close, which has further dampened the mood in the CBD.

Travel restrictions have also prevented the entry of large numbers of international students, many of whom tend to live and spend time in the city centre. Australia is reopening its borders to all fully vaccinated international travellers from Feb 21.

The New South Wales government and the city of Sydney have signalled they are ready to transform the city centre into what the state's Trade Minister Stuart Ayres describes as a "24-hour global playground".

The state government is considering an ambitious new report released by the Committee for Sydney, an urban policy think-tank, that has presented various options for changing the city centre from a business district into a more appealing and vibrant place that will attract workers and non-workers and encourage them to spend more time there.

The report, A Re-imagined Sydney CBD, developed by the think-tank and global planning and design firm Arup, proposed options such as shutting streets to cars after 6.30pm to make way for outdoor dining and performance spaces, opening a 24-hour food market and building skate ramps in disused car parks to attract younger people.

It also proposed that museums, theatres and other cultural institutions would receive subsidies to stay open later at night. Other proposals include subsidising childcare, widening footpaths and converting underused spaces such as rooftops and laneways into community gardens and performance spaces.

"Sydney's CBD is world-leading, but it is in a time of evolution as the world changes," the report said. "The aim is to provide spaces where people can gather together for shared experiences and to build community."

In an introduction to the report, the trade minister wrote: "This is about transforming Sydney's CBD from a nine-to-five workplace to a 24-hour global playground for innovation, entertainment and culture, and boosting new opportunities to attract investment and global talent."

The state government has already launched a range of measures to try to entice people back to the city. These include a "Thank God It's Friday" scheme announced last year that proposed giving residents vouchers worth A$100 (S$96) to spend on dining and entertainment in the city on Fridays.

The city of Sydney and the state government have also been trying to promote outdoor dining and to make it easier for cafes and restaurants to set up areas on footpaths and in laneways.

The state government held a summit on Friday (Feb 11) to explore ways to reboot the city and increase foot traffic. According to Sydney's Daily Telegraph newspaper, the summit was told that public transport usage in inner Sydney has dropped by 65 per cent below pre-pandemic levels.

Lord Mayor of Sydney, Ms Clover Moore, reportedly told the summit that train and light rail trips in the city centre should be free and called for additional city blocks to be free of vehicles.

"We need to seize on this moment with energy to not only help the city centre recover but thrive anew," she was quoted as saying by the Sydney Morning Herald.

State Premier Dominic Perrottet reportedly said in his address to the summit: "What is the long-term plan for our city? There shouldn't be tumbleweed rolling down Martin Place (pedestrian mall in the CBD) on the weekend."

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