ANZ Night Time Economy Forum Explores ‘The Sleeping City’

How can  the Sydney CBD become   a 24/7 Night Time Economy (NTE) and what lessons can we learn from it and other cities, regional towns and international examples to create a model for the future of the night economy across Australia?

The ANZ Night Time Economy Forum held on the 12th to 14th June 2019 and chaired by Dr Jonathan Drane brought many of these  issues to life and went beyond the typical tourist and event based analysis of this subject.

When Sydney (and other Australian cities and towns) substantially shuts down at 10 pm and relies predominantly on its transient visitor populations to feed its night activities, there is a long  way to go. The ANZ Night Economy Forum dealt with these issues taking the debate beyond the tempting focus on transient visitation solutions to the strengthening of the more permanent ‘structural’ aspects of the ‘city and place economy’ that might lend light to the creation of the 24/7 night economy of the future.

The forum brought together government agencies, local government authorities, industry, academia and legislators across Australian from Perth to Canberra, Hobart, Sydney and the Gold Coast then to regional settings like Lake Macquarie, Townsville, Newcastle and to Wellington in New Zealand and more. The cohort sought to not only understand big city, big population night economies but small vibrant regional examples and strategies.

Contributing to this complex, exciting topic were politicians, city planners, economic development managers, city precinct officers, urban designers, architects,consultants, retail businesses, industry associations and developers. Night economy market participants spanned areas from music to creative spaces and entertainment venues and into the international arena.

Many questions and issues arose and a framework for understanding the NTE arose:

How can Sydney maintain economic ‘night continuity’ when it relies predominantly on a transient population and not a more permanent ‘structural’ population and associated offerings. Events like Vivid and the Sydney Festival sporadically bring millions of visitors, but what happens ‘after the parade’. The canvass of the city at night it would seem is one of darkness with intermittent lit precincts and enclaves. The harbour foreshore lights up from the Opera House through the Rocks, Walsh Bay to Darling Harbour but the inner canvass is spotted with night precincts and enclaves such as Kings Cross, Angel Place, Cowper St Wharf  and more.

Meanwhile every work day, between 1 and 1.5 million people (1) come and go from the city in a transient daily migration of workers, tourists and other visitors.  But what is left in the city offerings between these migrations, and how does it resemble or become a night economy let alone a 24/7 city that never sleeps?

In amongst this transience, the Sydney Peninsula (Circular Quay to Haymarket- Darling Harbour to Botanical Gardens) has only 17,252 (ABS 2016) residents- its permanent ‘structural population’. Even the whole Local Government Area of Sydney and its population of 208,374 (ABS 2016) is not as large as Blacktown’s (Australia’s largest LGA by population at 336,962). Around 65,000 people of the 100,000 working residents who live in the local government area work in the peninsular.

See ABS Stats Page

Manhatten, the city that never sleeps, by comparison, has a permanent population of approximately 1.6 million and during the working week this swells to 3.9 million (2)  as a comparison. On this point also, right on our geographical doorstep is the power house of the Asiatic Cities and their vibrant night-scapes, which in some cases claim a longer history than the European and American examples.

And how can our city office towers and retail offerings afford to be empty of commercial activity  8 to 10 hours during the late evening and morning period. In the creation of these megalith towers, they are valued both commercially and economically on the assumption of   24 hour ownership, lease and usage and yet they often sit empty in the night hours? How much investment value and economic activity is being lost?

To give some historical perspective to these questions,  in the 1960s it was a common saying that you could fire a cannon down George St after 5pm. This was not some idea of insurrection but a statement that the so called city was really a glorified town formation with little resident CBD population and evening  offerings.

It is also in hindsight, a strange polarity that the re-known night time economy of that time revolved around a weird and rather advanced mix of dodgy night clubs and unprotected sex workers in Kings Cross.

The forum sought to define how a city can create a night time economy that goes beyond traditional examples of  restaurants, theatres, cinema, pubs, night clubs (and sex). The landscape of night time is divided into evening economy versus late night economy separating the concept of dinner related early evening activities to late night entertainment and clubs which in themselves have attracted controversy and restrictions due to alcohol/drug related violence and associated restrictions and curfews that remain the subject of intense debate.

The night time economy builds our economic profiles and international attraction but also attracts problems which were also addressed with expert speakers in this area from Lockout to other examples of greater access.

At the community end of the night time economy lies the safety benefits of people in the city at night from people returning home from work, to those heading out for a night shift. Homeless people benefit from government and benevolent services that extend into the evening from shelters and related services to libraries and government support agencies.

At the city planning end of the equation, how do we plan for these changes and indeed is planning the correct method for activation of such precincts and outcomes. Do we use stimulant instruments such as Mixed Zoning or do we instead as City Builders take a more proactive role and design and develop precincts with development bodies. Do we take the examples of Barangaroo, Darling Harbour, City West and Honeysuckle in Newcastle to create catalyst related precincts. Do we plan, design or develop a Night Time Economy.

Another consideration is the restraint that our city and town formations bring to us in historical terms. The typical regional town formation for example was designed with small resident populations in the town centre while the population worked and lived in the rural catchment surrounding the town centre. In the beginning, there were also no shopping centres, which is hard to imagine and in effect the town formation of old was the regional shopping centre. The two storey ornate formations of our historical towns is testament to this era and they held only shop top housing and no megalith apartment towers which only recently form the basis for a structural population that feeds on the streetscape below. The question arises how do we adapt low resident town formations to a vibrant night economy?

At the infrastructure end of things, how do we support a mobile vibrant night population with a safe transport option that does not rely on cars and car parking? How do we stop millions of people migrating across the face of our cities in a daily migration at peak hours and is this part of the night time economy solution or formula?

On the issue of sustainability and environment the recent election has reinforced the need for climate urgency but the validity of jobs and the need to feed our families. Even more compelling – is utilising our city infrastructure and city buildings 24/7 the city’s version of burning the candle at both ends?

These questions and concepts were the subject of review by experienced speakers who shared experience, examples and case studies to help us through the conundrum. Dr Drane ran a workshop see web page on the first day with several Local Government Authorities and other industry attendees covering ‘city precinct activation’  and to shift the emphasis from a purely economic lens to a ‘place economy’ and precinct/enclave focus.

Despite our existing vibrant night life precincts in our major city centres, our cities in general have a long way to go in the conception and realisation of these exciting new offerings.

Meanwhile the statistics show that there is a huge missed opportunity for our economy from the creation of an NTE. The Greater Sydney night time economy  employs 234,000 people (2017) and has the potential to rise from its current annual value of  $27.2B to $43.3B, an increase of $16.1B (3).

Out of the findings of the  ANZ night time economy forum we can further the debate, understand the issues and plot a path to the future of our cities both day and night with an emergent framework of understanding.

Stay tuned to Dr Drane’s web site for further updates on these frameworks and associated research initiatives which are designed to bring light to the night time economy.

Dr Jonathan Drane


  1. Sydney City Council: The City at a Glace Viewed15 July 2019. 1.5million noted in forum.
  2. World Population Review: Manhatten Population,  Viewed 15 July 2019
  3. Imagine Sydney – Play 2019- Deloitte- Viewed 15 July 2019


Other Related Articles and activities by Dr Jonathan Drane:

Dr Drane was invited as Chairman for ANZ Night Time Economy Forum, Sydney, June 12th to 14th.

Dr Drane Master Class on Night Time Economy  run at ANZ Night Time Economy Forum, Sydney June 12th see web page and topic:

City Planning and Design for Night Time Economy: Building Vibrant Spaces After Dark: Learn More

Creating a Night Economy: Do we plan it, design it or develop it, as city builders. Read Dr Drane’s article.

Creating a Night Time Economy: Plan, design or develop?

Dr Drane’s Master Class on Street Activation run at Night Time Economy Council’s Workshop

Is B4 Mixed Use Zoning a Blunt Instrument or a Catalyst for Change?

Outer West Dormancy Study Workshop held to define research on city precinct activation.

Sign our petition- stopping the NSW State Government from closing submissions into Building Defects prematurely

Sign the petition on this link:

Read and Sign Petition

The current situation with dangerous building defects in the Australian multi-apartment sector is dire.

Apartment owners fear the worst, from structural failure and imminent fire to potential evacuation of their apartment block. This situation could even be life threatening and the tragic memory of  Grenfell (2017) and Bankstown (2012) still haunts us (see the photo chronology of key events above).

This petition exposes the inadequate time period that the State Government and Department of Fair Trading have given for the public and industry to assess their recent response  to the building defects situation and for people to make a meaningful response. The petition seeks an extension of time for the response to 30 September 2019 (an extra two months).


There have been several reports to the NSW State Government over the past five years with the latest being the Shergold-Weir Report in February 2018. The industry and public have been waiting for a government response and finally it has come but with little public awareness and fanfare and now within an inadequate time frame.

The Government response is in the form of two initiatives:

The first is the sudden Dept of Fair Trading ‘Building Stronger Foundations’ paper which addresses the Shergold-Weir report of February 2018 and provides a submission portal see:

The second is the NSW Legislative Council Accountability Committee inquiry see:

These are long awaited responses and now the public and industry and others have been given only a month since late June to respond. The media campaign by both the Department of Fair Trading and the NSW State Government have been totally inadequate to gain the necessary reach for a life threatening issue that is close to the heart of all Australians. After all, everyone has a loved one who lives in an apartment somewhere who may not be sleeping well over this.

The second initiative was only media released on the 4th July 2019 and the portal released on the 10th July.

Call to Action

This petition seeks an extension of time to allow for a three month minimum submission process to allow for adequate public and industry response. Extend the date from the current 24 July 2019 to 30 September 2019.

Dr Jonathan Drane

Later life PHD- harnessing your industry experience, smarts and life’s passion


Should you undertake a PHD after many years in industry:  why, when and how?

My colleagues of many years are intrigued by my choice to undertake a PHD late in life. Some see it as inexplicable, some as madness and perhaps they are right on both counts. But I also know it was always in my wiring and something I had to do and my doctorate was created inadvertently and subconsciously over many, many years… decades in fact.

For those who are contemplating a thesis progression path through honours, masters and then PHD, this might be of interest and here is how my journey ended up like this..

I completed my PHD at UNSW Built Environment in 2015 at the tender age of 60 on the property development mechanism and its part in the growth of cities.  My passion and 35 year industry experience was for high rise buildings and their dominance of the city skyline. I started gazing at them as a young construction cadet with some awe and wonder at the also tender age of 18 with a site visit to the construction of the MLC Tower ( Sydney CBD) being built by Civil and Civic/Lend Lease in the early 1970s. Mystified by the experience, I  eventually started to actually write about this in my first thesis as an MBA student at MGSM in 1992 at the age of 37 as I was becoming a  young father of a small family.

My topic morphed  from there over many years into ‘City Growth & Development Dynamics’ and in particular how dead (dormant) city areas are brought to life. This occurred strangely by accident along the way for I had precipitated a property development in Townsville which was ‘planted’ in the semi-dormant city street of Palmer Street and became what I found was a catalyst project for the resurrection of  the precinct .

This dormancy theme and the high rise love from earlier in my life resulted in two research projects during a period as  lecturer at Western Sydney University in 2016 at the age of 61 and that was ‘The State of Contemporary Property Development Structures‘ and ‘The Outer West Dormancy ( Sydney Basin) Research Project‘ . ( See City Whisperer Banner above ). The latter obtained a seed grant and then an ECR Fellowship ( Early Career) grant. I got a kick out of that label.

I am now creating a Night Economy Research Initiative after being invited to chair the ANZ Night Time Economy Forum in June 2019 at the age of 64 and as a follow on from the prior research and its emphasis on precinct activation.

While all this occurred and to put bread on the table I created a research and advisory consulting group called Optimum Search in 1993 at the age of 38 fresh and naive from my MBA and have kept the doors open since that day despite some quiet times and some employment interruptions. This vessel is my career/business life blood and life boat and it has its ups and downs but it is the vehicle I always return to. I am even told by recent events that I am part of the Gig Economy which gives me a renewed sense of place.

I was inspired to create this life boat by many writers and industry role models but none more so than Antony Jay and his book  ‘Corporation Man‘. Antony is known more in the mainstream as the creator of the BBC series ‘Yes Minister’. However Antony’s key message was to divide the institution into two sectors The Hunt and The Camp which drew on a primal theme.To hunt was to bring business into the group and the camp provided the administrative  organisation that delivered the product or service.

Extending this to an agile existence now in the modern era has some relevance it would seem, so to divide your career/business existence into two parts and parallel paths might be a good strategy given the rising transience of work, the ‘under employment’ and gig economy and the digital divide that places people with digital smarts into a new elite and even dare I say a rising intellectual aristocracy.

Why am I telling you this? Because:

We are living longer to 80 and 90 years of age so I may have 30 years to live which is both exciting and daunting. Meanwhile at the ANZ forum a statistic was noted that the work force held only 4% of people 64 years and older ! I have felt this tide for many years now and all the more reason for my creation of a life boat in the form of a company vehicle that morphed and changed over a quarter of a century from advisory to research to entrepreneurship and back again as the tides came in and out in different zones both geographical and sectorial.

So how do you deal with this twilight zone in your life or is it too far away to think about. If you are enjoying life and your career and creating families, I know one thing. Time is fleeting so it might help to give this era a thought every now and then.

If you need mentoring on your thesis and doctoral path please feel free to contact me or Learn More

Dr Jonathan Drane ( circa age 60!)