Oxford Street revitalisation
Like any dynamic precinct with a colourful night life, diversified community and urban environment, over time, Oxford Street has faced myriad changes and a number of challenges. With its rich and varied history and strong foundation of community engagement and pride, this much loved ‘strip’ is well equipped to take on challenges such as night time safety, maintaining visitation, revitalising retail and addressing affordable rental. The City of Sydney is working on a broad range of projects aimed at revitalising Oxford Street. With the support of the community these projects range from activating City and privately owned properties in the precinct for cultural and creative use, as well as a broad range of other projects.
Cultural & Creative Spaces
As part of our efforts to revitalise the Oxford Street precinct, the City has been working to provide affordable space on the strip to cultural and creative organisations and businesses. On 27 June 2011, the Lord Mayor tabled a Minute proposing new directions for lower Oxford Street, and on 22 August 2011 Council resolved to undertake a number of short, medium and long term initiatives to activate City owned properties in the precinct.
In October 2011 the City called for Expressions of Interest (EOI) from artists and creative enterprises to activate and occupy currently vacant City-owned retail and office space on Oxford Street.
We received 52 high quality submissions. From this highly competitive field a diverse range of cultural and creative organisations operating on both a non-profit and commercial basis were selected to occupy three retail spaces and 13 office suites. Since February 2012, 16 tenants include a mix of commercial and non-profit organisations across a range of fields including film, object, graphic and textile design, contemporary music, transmedia, architecture and screenwriting are injecting new life into the precinct. An additonal office and fourth retail space have recently joined the program, bringing the total to 18.
In the first three months of the project, more than 200 artists and designers were represented across three retail stores supporting the local economy as well as providing opportunity to the wider creative community.
At a review of tenants in June 2012, participants reported involvement in the project had raised the profile of their businesses; improved their status and credibility and led to professional opportunities, new networks and collaborations.
Data collected from the tenants involved, indicated almost $1 million has been spent by participants on local goods and services in the area since the programs inception and identified an average of over 6,700 visitors to their spaces each quarter.
In August 2012, Council agreed to extend the tenants’ leases for a further 12 months, with the option of another year to December 2014, to allow their businesses to continue to grow.
Social enterprise tenant AroundYou, capitalised on the creative energy of the project and by setting up a new networking event – 66 Meet Ups – where creative entrepreneurs and investors can network and share their expertise and showcasing the precincts creativity and innovation.
In mid-2012, AroundYou became the program’s first graduate. Having rapidly outgrown their office space at 66 Oxford Street, the team moved their financially viable business to a new 300sqm commercial premises on a longer term lease in the CBD to further develop and continue to flourish. In May 2013, Sydney Writers’ Room – Oxford Street Labs advised it had also outgrown its allocated property due to the expansion of their ABCTV show The Roast and are now operating from a commercial premises in Alexandria.
The organisations currently taking part in the Oxford Street Cultural & Creative Spaces project are:
Long term creative work and live/work spaces
In February 2012 Council approved funding to investigate required compliance works to determine the viability of converting spaces in three City-owned buildings at 110, 112-116 and 118-122 Oxford Street into artist live/work apartments and cultural and creative work places. The transformation of the historic Burton Street Tabernacle into the “Eternity Playhouse”, a 200-seat theatre and creative arts centre with a gallery, bar and café is also nearing completion. It is anticipated that works will be complete and Darlinghurst Theatre Company active in the theatre early 2014.
Collaborative models – the City of Sydney and private property owners
We are currently working to identify strategies to encourage activation of empty space. The City is developing collaborative models in order to work with private owners to activate their own vacant properties. This is a City-wide project but it will begin in Oxford Street.
We have carried out an audit of properties in the Oxford Street area in order to identify any vacancies, the current mix of businesses, any gaps in the offering and ways the City might diversify the tenancies in its own properties to achieve this mix and encourage private owners to do the same.
This work will roll out in 2013.
Underutilised space in the public domain
We have also conducted an audit of vacant or blank walls, doorways and land, so we can find ways to activate them where we can – with public art, pop-up events or temporary projects.
Foley Street revitalisation
We’re working on the design for an upgrade of Foley Street will become home to interesting and engaging ‘finegrain’ retail and hospitality businesses, and will include a partial closure of the street.
Cleansing and waste
Approximately 8,100sqm of footpath between College St and Barcom Ave on the north side and College and South Dowling Sts to the south has been completely cleaned and resealed including extensive removal of chewing gum. Not only that, 60 m2 of loose, missing and broken pavers have been repaired and 2,753 lm of polyurethane expansion jointing replaced!
A number of units within the City are working together to investigate the retail landscape on Oxford Street, including influencing factors and gaps in offering. We are also focusing on engaging tenants for our own properties that will complement the appropriate business mix, promote daytime activation and the vibrant ‘feel’ of Oxford Street.
‘The Main Drag’ was a City-organised event that took place on February 25 2012 with two main locations for event activity – a pop-up park in Oxford Square with Astroturf, deck chairs and free massages as well as a stage in Taylor Square with live drag shows, burlesque and fitness performances. Pedestrian surveys concluded the majority of respondents were on Oxford Street for shopping and to enjoy The Main Drag. Positive feedback has come from community members and a number of businesses reported record sales.
Taylor Square Art
WindGrid by Tim Knowles
WindGrid criss-crosses Taylor Square north forming a constantly shifting ceiling that also animates the ground throughthe effect of cast shadows. Inspired by the hanging strips of bunting overhead during Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, these small strips waver and flutter individually but with an overall cohesion.
The City of Sydney’s Streetware program is transforming Sydney’s laneways and public spaces with a megamix of pop-culture references, paste-ups, paint and aerosol. The Streetware program has recently focused on the Oxford Street precinct around Taylor Square and Foley Street.
Streetware 3: Always was, always will be by Reko Rennie
Through his art, Rennie explores what it means to be an urban Aboriginal in contemporary Australian society. With this artwork Always was, always will be Rennie aims to bring this representation into a very public forum, a unique space that due to its diurnal patterns, allows it to be seen by a broad range of people.
In his work, Rennie uses geometric diamonds, referencing his associations to north-western NSW and the traditional markings of the Kamilaroi people. Reko Rennie collaborated with Cracknell and Lonergan Architects to realise the artwork in this public context and at this large scale. This artwork uses fluoro paints applied to the 1-5 Flinders Street building, a former Commonwealth Bank, built in 1910.
Across the front of the building façade, neon text (‘Always was, always will be’) is incorporated across the geometric diamonds. As a temporary work in this urban context the meaning is clear – this was Gadigal country and always will be Gadigal.
Streetware 4: We Are Here
Curated by Juliet Rosser, Platform 72
Sarah Howell, Dylan Demarchi, The Dirt, byrd and Gui Andrade
WE ARE HERE is an inclusive proclamation of present and past. A spectacle inviting you in; you are here and WE ARE HERE.
The WE ARE HERE mural transforms Foley Street into a time-travelling, rambunctious romp through the complex history of the local area. Taking its cue from the hundreds of celebratory and solemn parades that have travelled up Oxford Street, the work turns the façade into a topographical map to create the WE ARE HERE parade route.
The City is also facilitating a number of public art projects in Paddington Reservoir Gardens as part of the Reservoir Art project.
Modern Day Mossages
The first of these projects, Modern Day Mossages by the local artist collective Popperbox, featured a typographic installation on the wall of the gardens. In May the Gardens hosted a showcase of Australian portrait photography as part of the Head On Photo Festival.
Cascade by artists Ruth McDermott and Ben Baxter featured laser cut acrylic panels hung from the cross bridge and visible from the Oxford Street gate.
We were inspired by the original purpose of the reservoir which was the storage of water for the rapidly growing city of Sydney. The idea of the ‘cascade’ is the feeling of water running off the surface of the bridge and forming a type of waterfall.
- Ruth McDermott
If you would like to speak with a City staff member about the City’s work in the Oxford Street precinct, please contact:
Kate Murray, Manager Creative City
T: 02 9265 9333