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Case studies

Greenland Centre creative hub

The Greenland Centre in Sydney is an innovative blend of private development and cultural policy. When finished, it will deliver:

  • Affordable workspace for creative professionals in the heart of the city
  • Locally specific cultural products and services for Sydney audiences
  • A precedent for including world-class cultural facilities in private developments.

With its world-famous Opera House and thriving arts scene, Sydney has a strong cultural identity and competes with Melbourne to be the arts capital of Australia. The city government actively supports and promotes public art and culture, regarding it as an essential part of urban life. However, while some $34 million per year is spent on programmes and services, it has never had a policy framework around culture. So from 2012 to 2014, the City of Sydney authority began to develop its first cultural policy and action plan.

The new policy identified a need for several kinds of cultural infrastructure in Sydney, including spaces for professional creative practice and art form development, and spaces for creative enterprise.

Access to affordable, customised workspace is one of the most pressing challenges facing artists and creative teams in Sydney; the lack of affordable workspace inhibits sustainable creative practice. Sydney and Melbourne are still among the top 10 most expensive cities in the world, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Worldwide Cost of Living Survey – a fact that is keenly felt within the arts and creative sector. The industry consultation found that key challenges include: access to affordable places for artists and creative workers to live; finding affordable spaces to create and develop their ideas; finding sustainable spaces for artists and creative teams to showcase their work – be it in galleries, theatres, cross-disciplinary, flexible spaces or in non-traditional environments and the public domain.

Of all these challenges, one of the most pressing issues affecting the city’s cultural development remains the lack of affordable, accessible work, rehearsal, studio and meeting space for professional creative practice, by small companies and individuals. It is a significant driver in the exodus of young artists and creative start-ups to other Australian towns and cities.

One project aiming to address this situation is the Greenland Centre creative hub, the result of an innovative approach to planning and strategic negotiations involving a private developer. The project hinges on an agreement between the City of Sydney authority and Greenland Australia, a subsidiary of a Shanghai-based development company. Greenland has developed projects in 65 cities around the world, but this development was the group’s first foray into the Australian market. The two parties entered into a Planning Agreement, whereby the developer offers certain public benefits voluntarily: in this case, benefits that were in line with the council’s new cultural priorities. The city government agreed to allow 2000 square metres of extra floor space for the developer, as long as another 2000 square metres were made available for a creative space.

About to commence construction, the creative hub will be in what’s set to be Sydney’s tallest residential tower, on Bathurst Street in the Central Business District. A $25 million, state-of-the-art facility, featuring spaces for dance, theatre, music, film and the visual arts, will span over five storeys. The hub has rehearsal spaces, studios, offices and production rooms, anda live/work apartment for a creative fellowship programme. Specialist facilities include soundproofed rooms for music rehearsals, double-height studios with sprung timber floors for dancers and actors, media and editing suites for filmmakers and new media artists, and wet and dry studios for visual artists.

Greenland will pay for the construction and fit-out of the space and facilities as part of its $440 million development of the building. The city will sign a 99-year lease for the creative hub, at a peppercorn rent. The overall initiative, maintenance and management of the creative hub is overseen by cultural staff at the City of Sydney. However it is proposed that a small number of resident organisations coordinate the daily operations of each floor.

This project is groundbreaking in Sydney, in using the term ‘public benefit’ to describe workspaces for artists and creative teams. The Planning Agreement promotes the public interest because the developer will provide a facility for the public benefit. There are no other facilities of this kind in inner-city Sydney and the key beneficiaries of the hub are the community’s practising artists and cultural workers. Without these facilities, cultural and recreational facilities are imported from elsewhere, leading to a diminution of local stories and content on Sydney’s screens, stages and galleries. Hence the wider public also benefit; they will be the audiences and consumers of local cultural products developed in the facility. The project sets an exciting precedent for including world-class cultural facilities in private developments.