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Sydney city profile | city data
  • Sydney is known for its natural beauty, waterfronts, and sunny climate that lends itself to outdoor cultural events.
  • Celebrating its Indigenous culture and heritage is a priority for the city.
  • Art-led placemaking principles are a way for Sydney to manage its unprecedented growth.

City data: Key facts

Geographical area: 12,144.50 sq. km

Total population: 4,575,532

Total national population living in the city: 20.5 %

Education level – with degree level or higher: 35 %

GDP per capita in 2008 (PPP): US$ 48,900

Creative industries employment: 5.3 %

Sydney has long been inhabited by Aboriginal Australians of the Eora Nation. In 1788 the British founded a prison colony at Botany Bay, the first European settlement in Sydney, and transportation of convicts to the area continued until 1850.

Now Australia’s largest city, with a population of over five million, Sydney contributes around 30% of national GDP. It is a culturally diverse city, with more than a third of residents born outside Australia. Over two hundred languages are spoken in Sydney and 25% of residents speak a language other than English at home. Originally shaped by British and Irish immigration, the city is now home to a large and growing Asian population and has one of the largest Chinese New Year Festivals outside of Asia.

Known for its natural beauty, waterfronts and beaches, Sydney is both multi-centric and sprawling. Centred around Sydney Harbour, it stretches along the coast and inland to Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains. The City of Sydney itself, where many cultural institutions are located, covers a relatively small area – with a population of under 200,000 compared to over 5 million for the city as a whole.

Sydney is now in a phase of unprecedented expansion, forecast to grow 33% by 2031. Over half of this growth will occur in the Greater Western Sydney region. In order to manage growth, the government is attempting to ensure that art-led placemaking principles are applied across transport, housing and urban renewal infrastructure projects. These include the Central to Eveleigh Urban Transformation Strategy, with the multi-disciplinary Carriageworks as its anchor cultural tenant, and the development of Sydney’s first innovation district, ‘Silicon Harbour,’ as part of the Bays Precinct Plan.

The cost of living in Sydney is one of the highest in the world. The City of Sydney is addressing the rising price of real estate through the Cultural and Creative Spaces programme. Using city-owned property and investigating models for collaboration with private property owners, it aims to provide affordable spaces for artists to work and live.

The state of New South Wales is making major investments in Sydney’s cultural infrastructure. This includes funding to create a world-class arts and cultural precinct at Walsh Bay on Sydney Harbour. It is also funding the first stage of the Sydney Opera House Renewal project, aiming to

maintain its status as an architectural icon, premier visitor attraction, and one of the world’s busiest performing arts centres.

An overall strategy framework for the City of Sydney is provided by Sustainable Sydney 2030, which sets out goals for making the city green, global and connected. Linked to this is the Creative City Cultural Policy and Action Plan 2014 - 2024, whose priority goals include: increasing creativity visible in the ‘public domain’; supporting participation and improving access; ensuring financial sustainability; sharing knowledge; and increasing global engagement.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people now represent 3% of the total Australian population, with Western Sydney having the largest single community in the country. Eora College, a centre for contemporary visual and performing arts and Aboriginal studies, is located in Sydney and focuses on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Meaningful recognition of indigenous heritage and culture is a priority for the City of Sydney through its Eora Journey programme.

Sydney is fast becoming a global festival city. The Sydney Festival, Sydney Writers’ Festival, Sydney Film Festival, and Biennale of Sydney attracted over 1.4 million audience attendances in 2016 across Sydney, with extended programming into Western Sydney. The world’s biggest festival of light, music and ideas, Vivid Sydney attracted a record 2.3 million people in 2016. Sydney’s weather lends itself to holding many of its cultural festivals outdoors, such as Vivid Sydney, Sculpture by the Sea and the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

As part of the Sydney 2030 strategy, the City of Sydney is paying increasing attention to the role of the night-time economy and live music. This comes in the wake of recently introduced state ‘lockout laws’ restricting the sale of alcohol late at night, which are said to have had a negative effect on Sydney’s nightlife. Current plans to develop the night-time economy will see a partnership between government and industry, and a new master planning process targeting the Central Business District and the Kings Cross area.

Australia’s largest city, with an extremely diverse population drawn from across the world, Sydney has a correspondingly rich cultural life. It is known for its beautiful natural setting and good climate. Yet it may be a victim of its own success, as its cost of living is among the highest in the world. Now the city is making efforts to ensure that its artistic scene, and the ‘fringe’ in particular, remain as vibrant as ever.