Article | Future Cities

The winning strategy that’s rapidly reviving communities in 2022

Returning life to the country’s major cities is just the beginning.

October 25, 2022


At the peak of the pandemic in 2020, the rulebook of the workplace was decimated. A 2021 report from the Property Council of Australia found that the percentage of employed people working from home on a regular basis had been increasing by roughly a percentage point every two years. More specifically, as the Delta variant took hold of the country, that figure spiked by 8.4%, bringing Australia’s work from home figure to a staggering 40.6%. 

The impact on businesses was unprecedented and any semblance of community in main town centres essentially flatlined. 

“We were seeing our clients and their clients being hit so hard and the vacant space and dormant streets in our city; it was heartbreaking,” says Ash Nicholson, Commercial Director of Marketing and Communications for CBRE. 

While the tides are changing in 2022 with stronger demand for office spaces across Australia’s capital cities, there’s still work to be done according to Ken Morrison, the Property Council of Australia’s Chief Executive.  

“While the office market has proven to be resilient and demand is in positive territory, our CBDs still need attention,” said Morrison in his August report

“While demand for space is increasing, the number of actual office workers in our city centres is well below pre-pandemic levels and threatens the ecosystem of cafes, restaurants and retailers that help make our CBDs such special places.” 

As the mission to revive the country’s major cities continues to gain momentum, Nicholson sat down with Sugar Glider Digital to talk about the intersection of art and culture in public spaces as the latest viable solution for resurrecting thriving communities in 2022.  

The art of community 

Rebuilding a community isn’t so much about reinventing the wheel as it is about redirecting collaborative efforts. For Nicholson, the secret to reviving a way of life simply comes down to the consumer and the experience.  

“Covid has empowered people to have a stronger awareness of what’s important to them, the businesses they want to align with and how their values impact their buying decisions.  

“All places need to engage and create an experience that is memorable for people to want to come back. Art is so much more than decoration on a wall, it gives people a sense of place, inspires curiosity and encourages conversation and connectedness. We are seeing art and culture in a variety of forms all through our buildings and public spaces, enriching the lives of the people who live, work, visit and play in our cities.” 

Proving a real-world solution  

Art is no longer just an aesthetic afterthought hanging in the fancy lobbies of big corporations. The two mediums have been integrating deeper than most would have noticed in recent years. The result?  

Expansive public events designed to intrigue, entertain and engage while elevating the voice of the people on a shared platform. Or in Nicholson’s field of expertise, spearheading bold initiatives like CBRE’s Flow & Glow, a free experiential event in Wynyard funded by the NSW Government. Or even CBRE’s most recent major partnership with TEDx Sydney, which saw over 1,400 attendees, more than 500 online members and a multitude of influential speakers shaping the future of their own city.  

It’s an unlikely pairing but one which seems to be working more effectively than ever. The delicate process of corporations working with artists and creatives isn’t rocket science but does require a unique approach.   

“We need to define our love language,” explains Nicholson.  

“At the moment, we both generally operate, communicate, brief and define things differently. That’s not to say that one way is wrong or less effective, but it does create confusion, unmatched expectations and sometimes conflict.  

“Defining definitions of value would also be useful: in property we represent space, which has a high value that is sometimes not recognised, and similarly, at times I am sure the arts community is offered space in exchange for an activation, which isn’t always necessarily matched by definitions of value. 

“I think we also need stronger ROI metrics for placemaking, activations and culture. We do have some data points but the most powerful ways we work together are often the hardest to measure impact for.” 

Given the significance of sustainability in today’s world, implementing these practices and initiatives into projects is also of the highest priority.       

“In Flow & Glow, ESG grounded every decision whether it be from the suppliers we engaged, the talk content curated or the messages behind the art we showcased,” says Nicholson.  

“The social and governance aspects are just as important to CBRE. 

“For TEDx Sydney we ensured all the content we curated with the speakers was aligned to ESG thought leadership as they are the messages our business wants to authentically be aligned to.” 

Building a better tomorrow, today 

Real success isn’t the result of a singular drive. It takes bringing together the right people with identical visions into the same room. In the real world, that future vision means transforming Sydney’s CBD into a world-class economy that doesn’t need to sleep.   

As one of CBRE’s most influential partners today, the NSW Government and Investment NSW have already begun working with councils, businesses and the community to build a safe, vibrant and robust 24-hour economy across Greater Sydney.   

The bold plan which aims to revive the country’s most populous city will be built across five strategic pillars.  

  • Provide more integrated planning and place-making which will see increased state and local government and industry collaboration to build an environment in which the 24-hour economy can thrive 
  • Encourage the diversification of night-time activities by supporting a wider variety of businesses at night 
  • Support industry and cultural development to help businesses and cultural entrepreneurs' access and thrive in the 24-hour economy 
  • Explore ways to enhance mobility and improve connectivity between 24-hour hubs through safe and reliable transport 
  • Change the narrative for Sydney to bring locals and outside visitors into Sydney at night, observing and encouraging healthy behaviors 

CBRE’s expertise and services in commercial real estate lie at the heart of this plan. Given this rare synergy, Nicholson is keenly eyeing the expansion of the firm’s recent wins in community rebuilding. 

“I am excited to say that we were successful in the final round of the NSW Government’s CBD Revitalisation funding program. This allowed us to host our second edition of Flow & Glow in Wynyard this year. We will further develop our focus on ESG across our three pillars of People, Place and Planet through talks, art and experience.”

And what is the end goal of all of this for her?  

“The Sydney of tomorrow for me is a purpose-driven community, where the entire planet is at the front of our minds and our children grow up free of bias and inclusive of all.  

“I see technology having a huge role in all aspects of our lives and believe Sydney will become an omni-city. The metaverse will shape a new way of engaging, working and living and will support the world-wide collaboration we need to create a better world.  

“I wholeheartedly believe that the role of my future is yet to even be created, our world is in a cocoon ready to transform into its next iteration.”  

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