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Sydney city profile | city data
  • Sydney today is in a phase of unprecedented expansion, with its population forecast to increase by 20% by 2031. Greater Sydney continues to be the heartland of the nation’s cultural sector, almost 30% of the nation’s cultural workers live in Greater Sydney.
  • Since 2014, the City of Sydney has pursued a particular focus on live music, performance venues and the night time economy following the introduction of the controversial state government ‘lock-out’ laws.
  • The impact of development controls and local environment plans are increasingly being recognised in discussions around cultural participation and creative industries employment. This is leading to efforts to create more effective links between cultural and planning policy.

City data: Key facts

  • Geographical area: 12,368 sq. km
  • Total population: 4,823,991
  • GDP (PPP) million: $269,872

    Sydney is located on the land and waters of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. First Nations Australians are part of the world’s oldest living culture, a culture that is estimated to extend back over 60,000 years. In 1788, Sydney became the first site of contact with the British who established a penal colony at the site. Subsequently, the lands of over 500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations across Australia were appropriated, seeing cultures and languages nearly erased. However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures have endured and are increasingly recognised as crucial to Australia’s cultural life and contemporary multi-cultural identity. First Nations’ approaches to land and water management are also increasingly relevant in the face of the escalating climate crisis. In Sydney, recognition of Eora histories and cultural practices, and the keeping of Gadigal language have become a major priority for the community and the cultural sector.

    Today, the City of Sydney, where many political and cultural institutions are located, covers a relatively small area compared to the Greater Sydney metropolitan region, which stretches along the coast and inland. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Sydney was in a phase of unprecedented expansion. Greater Sydney was growing at around 1.7% per year and population was forecast to increase by 1 million people over a fifteen year period from 2016. Following the impact of the pandemic on migration, in 2021, Sydney’s population declined by 0.1%. For the first time since 1981, overall population growth in regional Australia exceeded that of Australian capital cities driven mainly by a loss of residents in Sydney and Melbourne.

    The natural beauty of Sydney Harbour is a striking setting for its major cultural institutions. The iconic Sydney Opera House remains a key attraction and sits within a waterside stroll from the Royal Botanic Garden, Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney Dance Company and Bangarra Dance Theatre are nearby at the Walsh Bay Arts Precinct, not far from the emerging Barangaroo precinct connecting Darling Harbour and the International Convention Centre. Recent plans for the addition of ‘Yananurala | Walking On Country’ – a multi-faceted art walk along nine miles of shoreline reflects the City of Sydney’s commitment to working closely with community and artists to make this part of Sydney remember and reflect Aboriginal culture and history.

    Modern Sydney is home to one of the world’s most culturally diverse populations. There is a strong presence of East Asian and South Asian diasporas, informing Sydney’s growing reputation for presenting Asian contemporary art. LGBTIQA+ communities are also central to Sydney’s social experience and cultural identity, shaping festivals and cultural programming as well as the city’s nightlife. Sydney will host WorldPride in 2023.

    The City of Sydney’s vision for the future is underpinned by two long-term road maps. Sustainable Sydney 2030–2050 Continuing the Vision is a strategic plan for making the city green, global and connected. It is complemented by the Creative City cultural policy and action plan which identifies priorities for the city’s cultural life, including making culture more visible in the public domain, investing in creative sector sustainability, supporting cultural participation, and improving access. Neither of these plans could have anticipated the impacts brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, but the policies and projects introduced in response have also enhanced the City of Sydney’s long-term plans. For example, projects aimed at increasing access to affordable creative workspace have been accelerated.

    Interventions to bring the city’s cultural offering back to life following the pandemic include a switch to outdoor arts programming and dining, enabled by funds for new cultural programming alongside lifting red tape. This represents a shift in a city that previously built its outdoor offer around beach life and sport.

    Another effect of Covid-19 has been long periods without international visitors, and in response, local festivals and cultural institutions have concentrated on programming more Sydney and Australia based creatives. Coupled with new interest from local audiences in home grown content, this has led to greater investment in the local sector. Meanwhile the appointment of a 24-Hour Economy Commissioner and an associated strategy aims to diversify the night time offer, integrate planning and placemaking, support new nightlife businesses and improve transport connections, helping this sector to revive.

    The City of Sydney is also addressing pressures that have persisted over decades: in particular the squeeze on cultural space, the residential redevelopment of industrial areas and a crisis of affordability, which have shrunk the creative industries from the city’s third to its fifth largest sector. Brokering new and more meaningful relationships between the cultural and property development sectors promises to turn the tide against the loss of cultural venues, recognising their essential role in a dynamic and expanding city.