by Lauren DeLorenzo, Journalist, Council magazine

Art can improve our mental health and emotional wellbeing — and now, city councils are turning to the sector to stimulate economic growth, following a pandemic-induced economic downturn. Here, we look at the arts, culture, business and infrastructure initiatives that are restoring the vibrancy of Australia’s major cities.

With each city experiencing different levels of lockdowns and economic uncertainty, councils have tailored recovery efforts to target major opportunities for economic growth.

Here is how Australia’s major cities are planning to bounce back from the challenges of the last two years.

Melbourne: transforming laneways into cafes

Not even a pandemic could take away Melbourne’s pride in its coffee culture. As part of its recovery efforts, Melbourne City Council has waived outdoor dining permits for over 1,250 cafes and restaurants, closed 16 laneways to make room for additional outdoor seating, and purchased $1.1 million in parklet infrastructure for businesses to use.

Council has also fast-tracked over 40km of planned bike lanes and pedestrian areas in the city, and made it a priority to ‘green’ the city with additional plants and trees.

But the beautification doesn’t stop there. A program of art installations, live performances and lighting installations has been rolled out, and vacant city storefronts have been rejuvenated with creative pop-up shops and activities.

Fees for busking permits and street trading were temporarily waived, while Melbourne Music Week and Melbourne Fashion Week were reimagined to be more COVID-safe in 2021 and 2022 respectively.

Small business reactivation grants were also a priority, with 1,100 small local businesses being awarded a total of $8 million in grants at the end of 2020.

Outdoor dining has been a key feature for many CBD councils looking to bounce back from the pandemic.

Adelaide: creating unforgettable events

A city which typically boasts a packed events calendar, Adelaide City Council’s COVID-19 recovery focuses on bringing back events and festivals while supporting local businesses. Adelaide City Council’s Events Recovery Fund aims to support the events industry with the long-term effects of the pandemic.

The program offers three categories of funding — quick response (up to $10,000), expansion of existing events (up to $50,000) and new events (up to $200,000). Site hire fees and application fees for events in the Park Lands have also been waived until August 2022, to attract new and diverse events from local, interstate and international organisers.

The Event Infrastructure Incentives Scheme matched funding up to $10,000 to help organisations cover event infrastructure costs, for events being held from January to June 2022. Supporting local businesses continues to be a priority, with three-hour consultations available to help owners adapt their businesses during the pandemic.

Council also introduced a City Business Support Package for small-to-medium businesses in 2020, delivered in partnership with Business SA.

The initiative has been extended until December 2022, with further initiatives planned through the city’s Reignite Adelaide plan.

Brisbane: building the economy brick by brick

With an Olympic Games on the horizon, Brisbane is constructing its COVID-19 recovery pathway by bolstering its infrastructure initiatives.

Brisbane City Council’s Dedicated House and Homes assessment team is fast-tracking construction approvals for small-scale projects, which provide work for small and medium businesses, such as new dwelling houses and extensions.

A Building and Construction Hotline will be available for customers to better understand the steps needed to get approval for their projects, moving them along more quickly. Council has implemented a target turnaround of 20 business days for code assessable, well-made developmental change applications.

Council has also introduced new incentives to build, such as reduced minimum value for bonding uncompleted works and a new green buildings incentive policy, which encourages the development of energy efficient residential and commercial office buildings.

Perth: flower bombs for flourishing streets

With a targeted COVID-19 Economic Rebound Strategy, Perth City Council has implemented a number of arts, culture and community programs to help the city flourish.

With flower bombs, digital walking trails, public art pieces and fairy lights in trees, Perth is living up to its nickname of the City of Lights, enhancing street level vibrancy and encouraging foot traffic.

Window decals were scattered through empty tenancies and the East Perth Tunnel of Hope, and increased signage in Northbridge announced the precinct was open to visitors.

Free online professional development webinars armed creative industry professionals with advice on upskilling and pivoting business models, while a flexible approach to arts and culture sponsorship allowed the industry to postpone or alter sponsored events.

Perth also waived fees for outdoor dining permits, implementing a fast-tracked, web-based self-accreditation process, and removed charges associated with Food Premise Licence Fees.

Sydney: green spaces for a communitydriven recovery

Recovery efforts for the Harbour City are focused on supporting communities, funding the arts sector and transforming city streets into pedestrian-friendly zones.

The City of Sydney is working to mitigate community issues exacerbated by the pandemic, bolstering its affordable housing programs and advocating to the New South Wales Government for no forced evictions and tenant’s rights.

A $1 million donation to Oz Harvest food relief is part of Council’s efforts to prioritize food security for vulnerable populations. With 30 per cent of Australia’s cultural and creative industries operating in Greater Sydney, and an estimated 1,800 creative businesses in the city, arts funding is crucial to Sydney’s economic recovery efforts.

A working group of cultural sector representatives will be set up to agree upon sites for future pop-up cultural activities, with support for a focus on Indigenous cultural practices and knowledge sharing.

$23 million has been allocated to upgrade Sydney’s parks, playgrounds, streets and encourage outdoor activities, with a massive transformation of George Street underway to expand outdoor dining and create a pedestrian-only zone.

City of Sydney Council has also approved a major revitalisation of Town Hall, City South and Chinatown precincts with new COVID-safe public spaces, green avenues, slow streets and laneways, as part of a planned citywide transformation.

Six new pop-up cycle ways will make bike riding a priority, and roaming ambassadors, maps and digital services will be rolled out to welcome people back to the city.

Urban greening and making CBDs an attractive place to be has also been a focus.

Darwin: prioritising local spending

As Darwin leaps ahead with its 2030 Economic Development Strategy, the city has focused on a “buy local” campaign to encourage spending that will support local jobs and businesses.

A new policy to buy local has a weighting of 30 per cent local content requirements, with the aim of increasing City of Darwin’s procurement in the local economy to 95 per cent of all Council expenditure.

The myDarwin online platform provided discounts, subsidised by Council, at locally-owned Darwin businesses. Health and safety measures were also a priority, and Council implemented a new cleaning program and additional night time security patrols.

Hobart: grants to keep communities connected

The City of Hobart has waived charges for outdoor dining for restaurants and cafes, as well as application fees for expanding outdoor dining to a COVID-safe area.

The fee changes aim to encourage the creation of new spaces for people to stay connected while staying safe, and also supporting local businesses. Financial support is also available for artists through the Creative Hobart Grants, and a number of business grants are also available.

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