Exploring whether it pays to play in Sydney, in ImagineSydney: Play

What makes a city a desirable place to live?

What does it mean to be a playful city? Can how a city and its residents play make a meaningful impact both economically and to quality of life? How can we improve? These are some of the questions which the latest report in our ImagineSydney series sets out to answer.

ImagineSydney: Play focuses on how, when and where the city plays, where potential for future development lies, and how government, business and people can benefit from the arts and culture, the energy of the streets at night time, food, experiences, live events, and opportunities to get outdoors and be active.

We’ve explored the value of play to our economy, and how the arts and culture sector, the energy of the streets at night time and opportunities to get outdoors and be active also present untapped potential.

Arts & culture

The arts and culture sector is a vital component of what makes Sydney a thriving city, contributing through creating jobs, innovation, creativity and boosting visitor numbers.

Our research shows the extent of the economic contribution made by the arts sector, and the value Sydney people associate with having a vibrant arts and culture sector. $1.4bn is the total economic visitation value of cultural events and institutions in NSW per annum and Sydney employs the highest proportion of people in the arts and culture sector across Australia capital cities. Greater Sydney has 3,100 cultural assets and 75% of Sydneysiders participate in some form of arts and culture activities.

In the global war for talent, the richness of a city’s arts sector is crucial to attracting and retaining talent. In building the best version of Sydney for the future, supporting the expansion and growth of its arts and culture sector will be essential to the character of Sydney and its people.

Businesses should start, or continue, sponsorship and patronage of the arts, and perhaps look at more ambitious or innovative work and being braver in what is supported. And there is also huge scope to move beyond just monetary support, such as looking at ways for their employees and artists to work together, learn about fostering creativity, and executing on ideas.

The night time economy (NTE)

Night time economies can be significant growth drivers for urban population centres. With people increasingly using the evening to work, shop, exercise and socialise; night time events and venues attract people, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, generate jobs.

The night time economy currently makes up 3.8% of Australia’s economy, but this figure is 6% in the UK, suggesting there is real upside potential for Sydney – we estimate the annual value of Sydney’s night time economy could be more than $43 billion across increased spending, and more employment and tourism.

Most global cities are now evaluating the benefits that arise from supporting the NTE with policy and services, including transport and regulation. A strong NTE also attracts visitors and entrepreneurs, creates jobs and drives the economic development of cities. Sydney’s NTE currently supports 234,000 jobs.

Businesses could create entirely new retail, service or entertainment offerings for night time customers, and partner with arts and culture and community groups to support extended opening hours and local events.

Sports & recreation

The economic benefits of holistic wellness to the community and to productivity have been proven time and again. Sydneysiders spend $3.2bn annually on sport and physical recreation in Sydney and 3.5m overnight visitors attended sporting events in NSW in 2016/17.

Our natural environment gives us a head start to being active in Sydney. You can surf before work, run by Sydney Harbour at lunchtime and stroll through Parramatta Park after dinner. This ease of access needs to be protected and expanded, especially as our population increases, and costs of accessing facilities will need to be kept in range for our whole population, not just those on higher incomes.
Investment in major sports infrastructure is important, but needs to be balanced with a commensurate investment in and commitment to grassroots sporting teams and clubs, where the talent to keep these stadia filled is developed.

Better transport links to facilitate access to community level sports, and to provide a good experience to those travelling to sporting events is crucial. The best way we can ensure the continuing excellence of our access to, and the standard of, sports and recreation facilities, is to use them.

Explore the full report for access to all of our insights. Or hear perspectives on play in Sydney from some of the major players in the arts, night time and sports sectors.

About the series


The ImagineSydney series contributes to the conversation around creating smart, flourishing and productive communities, and strategies that will drive economic and social development in Sydney. It includes two other reports:

  • ImagineSydney: Create offers new solutions to unlocking the city’s future growth potential,
  • ImagineSydney: Live finds that a more accessible 30-minute Sydney could deliver a $10 billion annual economic dividend for the NSW economy.


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