Adelaide is well recognised as a ‘festival city’ – it is when we are at our very best and about much more than just a good time. Rebuilding our city economy post-COVID demands that we do two things with a sense of urgency – turbo-charge our cultural economy, and grow our city centre residential population. Both require creative policy and funding interventions by all tiers of government. 

COVID has shown just how vulnerable our city centre economy is to major disruption. Take the shoppers, uni students and working commuters out of the CDB equation, and the house of cards comes tumbling down. The long-anticipated work-from-home revolution, while great for family-life and the local metropolitan economy, has been catastrophic for the inner-city, which lacks a critical mass of residents. 

In recent months, state and Commonwealth governments have successfully promoted stimulus packages that are taking metro and regional housing demand to record highs by plugging the deposit gap for would-be home-makers and bringing forward future demand. However, these initiatives do not work for CBD apartment demand stimulus that requires longer planning lead times. Apartment living must become a more accessible and appealing first choice for both younger working people and for our burgeoning time-rich retiree cohort with both the spending power and time to savour the city-living dividend. More people working from home in city apartments must be a part of the mix.

The real dividend for city-living is access to culture – in all its forms. Festivals and major events are magnets for visitors. The Fringe, WOMADelaide and The Adelaide Festival, along with major sporting and stadium scale music events, motorsports, the Bay to Birdwood and museums are all people magnets and flag-bearers for a much larger ‘cultural economy’. Investing in events activation cascades spending across the broader cultural economy. Hotel bookings, food and wine spending, taxis and Uber, retail and entertainment – from live bands to DJs in nightclubs and our tourism industry – are primary essential elements and secondary beneficiaries of an activated ‘cultural economy’.      

More regular events and festivals will be magnets for the million-plus people of greater Adelaide as well as for interstate and international visitors. ‘Illuminate Adelaide’ – the new annual winter festival holds great potential. Reinvigorating our stable of respected biennial festivals by making them annual is also a no-brainer. From youth arts, to Adelaide Film Festival and The Adelaide Festival of Ideas, we have the event brand DNA just waiting to be better leveraged. By enhancing already popular annual cultural offerings such as Classic Adelaide, Tasting Australia, and better marketing for our second-tier annual festivals such as Feast, Ferment, Cabaret, OzAsia and SA’s History Festival – we can make city living and visiting a more appealing choice for people.

Back in 2001 the City of Adelaide adopted the strap-line: “CapaCity, VivaCity, AudaCity”. In essence: ‘more people, more activity – and more attitude’. It was short-lived, but is needed now more than ever. Turbocharge culture and grow!