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The Neon Grid with Michael Rodrigues

In The Neon Grid podcast, NSW’s first 24-Hour Economy Commissioner, Michael Rodrigues explores what it means to build a 24-hour economy through a series of interviews with the best and brightest across industry, local council and the NSW Government.

Episode 2. Karl Schlothauer

Karl Schlothauer is a bar owner and the President of the Independent Bar Association.

Episode details

One of the largest playing cards for Sydney’s night life is YCK Laneways - the buzzing cluster of small bars located across York, Clarence and Kent Streets. Tune in to this episode as Michael Rodrigues speaks to the owner of Sydney’s award-winning and loved small bars, co-founder of YCK Laneways and President of the Independent Bars Association (IBA), Karl Schlothauer.

In this episode, you will learn about:

  • the IBA’s establishment and purpose
  • how the COVID pandemic shaped Sydney’s nightlife relationships
  • how technology will connect Sydney’s venues together and improve user experience.

If you're curious, visit:

To keep up to date with the efforts behind Sydney’s 24-hour economy:

Find and connect with Karl on LinkedIn

Produced by Pod Paste, in Sydney Australia.

Transcript

Karl: [00:00:04] Back when I first started running a bar, there were a lot of questions I had about legislation but I was too scared to go and ask Liquor & Gaming. This is a place where you can come and say, “Is this right?” “Does this comply?”. Collectively with increased patronage, and now you can open up a small bar license quite quickly with an interim license. These are some of the benefits of being organised.

Michael: Welcome to The Neon Grid. I'm your host, Michael Rodrigues. I'm often asked, “What's the biggest impediment to unlocking the potential of the nighttime economy in New South Wales?”. My answer? Collaboration. Bottomline for the 24-Hour Economy Strategy and the work that my office has been set up to do is that we will live or die on our ability to coordinate the activities of NSW Government, local councils all across the state, and industry. In the same way a scientist might conduct a laboratory experiment, I've been working with a bunch of fellow chemists for nearly a year now on a prototype for going out districts. Our very own sandpit, so to speak, the collaboration we need to deliver on the government's vision for Sydney. Chief amongst co-conspirators is today's guest, Karl Schlothauer, former model and Sydney small bar owner. Karl co-founded the Independent Bars Association (IBA) for much the same reasons as I co-founded the NTIA (Night Time industries Association), to coordinate industry and improve the operating conditions for businesses in the sector.

[00:01:20] Today, we'll chat about his role in shaping Sydney through the work of the IBA, which for the main part has been behind the scenes, but we will also interrogate the workings of YCK Laneways, a hitherto unnamed area of Sydney that is home to some of our city's most loved and awarded small bars. YCK has really captured the imagination of decision makers in governments, councils across Sydney, and industry leaders across the nation. It's also started to gain international recognition having been nominated for the Best Night Time Economy Initiative at the Music Cities Awards. Will it win? Well, win or not, it's already done a job because since inception, business in the area, absent lockdown, saw significant footfall and revenue growth. Punters love it. And that's the only test that really matters. Grab something cold, take a seat or remain standing if you prefer, for my interview with small bar pioneer, Karl Schlothauer.

Michael: [00:02:14] Karl Schlothauer, mate, it's good to see you. I've never seen you with a microphone in your hand, but I'm envisaging that at one point in time, you were on stage, is that right?

Karl: [00:02:24] Yes, one point in time, I was on stage.

Michael: [00:02:26] I met you I think when you were-- I'm going to get this wrong, but maybe the venue manager owner something at Favela, was it Favela?

Karl: [00:02:35] Oh, yes. I was the marketing and functions director at Favela in the Cross.

Michael: [00:02:39] You'd be wearing one of those hats, what are they called?

Karl: [00:02:42] I had an array of little good top hats. Cheers.

Michael: [00:02:44] [laughs] So, you were on stage before, was it a DJ or front man?

Karl: No, not so much on the stage at Favela. More the stage stuff was back in my thinner years, I like to call it, as I was modeling for about 12-15 years, traded the stage for the catwalk.

Michael: [00:03:02] So, hence Stitch, hence Pocket, hence Button. Nothing to do with your fashion background?

Karl: [00:03:08] I would like to think I'm that clever. We didn't even see the synergies between them until someone pointed to that when we opened up Stitch. And then obviously when we opened up Button, that was just for the fun of it.

Michael: [00:03:20] Great to have you on, as listeners might have worked out by now, we're reasonably well acquainted, either through the industry, Independent Bars Association, a whole bunch of connections these days. We've covered some of your background, but fashion model come leading luminary of the bar industry. I remember that Pocket bar, when I was at Time Out, picked up Bar of the Year, if I recall rightly.

Karl: [00:03:41] Yeah, we got the People's Choice Award.

Michael: [00:03:43] People's Choice. Yeah, so exciting to have you on. Just a bit about you yourself, what took you into from fashion into opening up venues then?

Karl: [00:03:50] Well, funnily enough, I traveled all up and down the East Coast with modeling. Often when I moved to a new city, I didn't know anyone. So, I had this model of find a bar that I like, and I'll generally find people in there that are similar to me. That was really evident when I was in Melbourne, there was a little dive bar called Blue Bar, and we basically lived there for three or four nights a week. They didn't do anything too flash in terms of food and beverage, but it was just the way they make you feel and the experience you had there. And that's the whole thing that attracted me to opening up our own bar, is creating those memorable experiences.

Michael: [00:04:26] It's a bit geeky now, but I just must admit, just come off stage at Tales of the Cocktail, it's been a career highlight, actually, I've been meaning to speak of that.

Unfortunately, I didn't go to New Orleans to do it, but at least I did it remotely. But I guess I mention that because the era of bars in Sydney, you sort of came up in a small bar movement, I guess, but you did go into that period of, I guess what I describe as focus on cocktails and bartender expertise. Whereas it's interesting hearing how your bar came to be, which was no doubt quality drinks was part of it, but it also had that other element of-- and probably bit that has a greater longevity, which is that theme of bringing people together who are like minded or want to sort of meet people with similar background?

Karl: [00:05:08] Yeah, correct. I think that's what excites me the most now about Australia's bar industry is about people's take on hospitality, the experience they create, and the environment they create for people to connect. You've just got to look at some of the small bars popping up now, the product offering is quite small, but the experience you have there is unbelievable.

Michael: [00:05:29] I think as experienced veterans of the industry, we've seen that change. Let's jump in there. You just mentioned small bars popping up. It's a pretty brutal time for anything popping up. In terms of the businesses, what's popping up that I should know about?

Karl: [00:05:45] Not so much new businesses, but like the guys from Stefano, the stuff that he's starting to do now. It's all about experience. Like you go in there, and I remember how I get treated and more so than how, what the food and drink tasted like, if you know what I mean.

Michael: [00:06:04] Yeah, totally. Stefano, Maybe Frank, Maybe Sammy, Sammy Junior, and if you can remember the-- there's another one, is there?

Karl: [00:06:13] There's one in the hotel bar, but that escapes me.

Michael: [00:06:16] Oh, it's Dean & Nancy's maybe. Anyway, but I think the point there you're getting at is the experience over the product in a sense, all of the experience is the product. Let’s just use the opportunity, part of this podcast is really about information exchange, and it'd be good just to-- it's on the cusp of reopening at the moment or discussions around it anyway. What's the vibe? What's going on? Speak for yourself, but also as in your capacity as the President of the Independent Bars Association?

Karl: [00:06:41] The vibes quite positive to tell you the truth. Everyone's excited about reopening. I think the pent-up demand we're going to see, very similar, if not stronger to what happened reopening from the first lockdown. We're going to see the regions in the outer suburbs of Sydney explode with people going out and the CBD might take a little bit longer. There's some concerns around what it's going to look like a couple of weeks into reopening and living with COVID.

Michael: [00:07:10] What are the concerns, specifically, a couple of weeks in? Let's interrogate that a bit further.

Karl: [00:07:15] What's going to happen when undoubtedly transmission happens at your venue? Are your staff going to have to isolate? Are you going to have to shut down the business for potentially two weeks because all your staff are isolating? Those sorts of things that haven't been ironed out as of yet.

Michael: [00:07:32] So, there's the known unknowns at the moment, which hopefully some clarity might be brought to those things in the coming weeks. What about from a patron experience perspective and demand, any concerns about that? You mentioned that the regions will have a slightly different rate of return to perhaps CBD, but what's going through your mind there?

Karl: [00:07:49] I think they're all eager to get out, to be honest. I think there might be a little bit of re-training of what going out is again, and a bit of behavior training. But overall, everyone I've spoken to can't wait to get out and support all the businesses that have been shut down.

Michael: [00:08:05] It's sort of second round, isn't it? We've had to go through a period of behavioral adjustment both for venues and for patrons in terms of systems and processes for you, and experience for us in terms of checking, sanitising, QR codes. Do you think that it will inevitably be different? We're talking vaccine passes and these sorts of different processes, potentially, but I guess we've been through it once, in a sense, do you agree?

Karl: [00:08:36] Yeah. I think the check in, sanitising, all that won't be a drama. I think there'll be some great door debates around the vaccine entry. But I think that'll be the biggest learning curve for everyone.

Michael: [00:08:49] You know me, I'm all about ideas. What do you reckon of this one? We try and get mobile vaccination clinics into the CBD. Because there'll be people that turn up at a venue and they're not vaccinated potentially, then the reaction is going to be, “Ah, you suck,” whatever. Or, “I'm going to try and get to another venue.” If you're not vaccinated, “Hey, look, there's somewhere you can get vaccinated.”

Karl: [00:09:17] "Here's a $20 drinks voucher in two weeks when you try to come back."

Michael: [00:09:22] Yeah. Well, maybe. I don't know. I think there could be something, but maybe not.

Karl: [00:09:25] Maybe link it in with Dine & Discover, why not?

Michael: [00:09:28] Yeah, go and redeem. I guess that's one thing to just touch on. And I guess this will date the podcast, but all the signs will be that we’ll accelerate through the 80% and then, you'll get to this tail end component. Really, what we want to do is make sure it's a real minority at that end, if you're a venue operator or anyone who wants to see their city come back, you understand that vaccination potentially is pretty important to that process without stepping on the toes of people who have different ideological views on the subject matter. But yeah, I think that anything we can do to see that vaccination rate rise is a good thing.

Karl: [00:10:03] Yeah, 100% agree.

Michael: [00:10:05] It's interesting for me, having just come off Tales actually, where I talked a lot about how to affect change in a city, and you and I had a common experience when we united really to help get the Independent Bars up, and then the Night Time Industries Association up and both those organisations became a continuing part of the city infrastructure when it comes to going out as they help to bring about indeed my role in government in some ways. Let's talk a little bit about the Independent Bars if we can for a while. What motivated you to take a leadership role? Which, by the way, has been very much needed and all credit to you.

Karl: [00:10:45] Just some of the struggles that I went through as being an owner-operator. You quickly learned that you've got to be a mini expert at almost everything. Council regulations, liquor license, noise regs, workplace laws, and these things change all the time. There was no real body or an association that I could go to and ask for support. Like the AHA existed, and that's for the pubs and hotels, or restaurants, but they didn't really understand the small bar culture that was going through. And the more I spoke to other bar owners, they all thought that there should be something that existed and that's how the Independent Bars came about.

Michael: [00:11:23] But why you though, why not someone else?

Karl: [00:11:25] I was just bored.

Michael: [00:11:29] I was channeling Mark Bouris. I was on his podcast, and he just drilled me, man, like, “Why you? Why not someone else?”. But I won't let you get away with that one, I think you were bored, but also, I think that you'd reached a stage in your professional life that you saw a need that was bigger than yourself, I'll put it to you that way.

Karl: [00:11:45] Yeah, that's a great way of putting it. There were challenges and I was ready for the next challenge in my career. I think, at that point, I had seven venues on the go. There's a wealth of knowledge in the noggin’, and I was ready to share that knowledge, and I thought that the Association was a great way to do that.

Michael: [00:12:02] That must have been some three or four years ago, 2017 actually, I remember we had that conversation overseas after dark.

Karl: [00:12:07] I believe I had to chase you for about a year to get a meeting.

Michael: [00:12:11] [laughs] It's getting worse these days. But thinking about the journey of the Independent Bars Association, I think it's a very hard gig for a number of reasons without insulting half a bar industry in one go, but it's a disparate set of stakeholders, small business, which means time available. I remember you very recently describing just that challenge you have trying to get in touch with people. You can't send an email and expect a response.

How's the association tracking? Is membership growing? Why should people get involved? Where does your support come from?

Karl: [00:12:44] Yeah, the association is tracking quite well where with Sydney, last time I checked, 120 plus members. I think there's 200 small bar licenses in NSW at the moment. We're growing and through the pandemic, we're seeing that grow a little bit faster than what we normally would.

Why people should join? Just for knowledge sharing. I think when I look back, when I first started running a bar, there were a lot of questions I had about legislation, but I was too scared to go and ask the police, too scared to go and ask Liquor & Gaming. And this is a place where you can come and say, “Look, this is how I'm doing it. Is this right? Does this comply?”. And then, we can advise around there. I think that's where a lot of members get a lot of their benefit. And also, collectively, we normally are experiencing the same pain points and then we can then go and advocate on behalf of all the members. We've managed to get a fair bit of change in the last, what, three or four years that we've been going. So, it's been quite good.

Michael: [00:13:46] I'm reminded of David Brent in The Office, "The results speak for themselves,". It's been a remarkable turnaround in some ways, I think, in terms of the landscape being adjusted to recognise the value, importance, and business nature of a small bar. I know there's a lot left to be done. It was not an easy ask to actually get the organisation set up and also get it really engaged with government, both at city council level, but also at state government level. And for me, nowadays, and speaking at Tales, I was trying to educate people globally about the importance of being organised, particularly in context of a pandemic, because it allows someone in my role to come to someone like you and get a very quick read on a situation or get advice that's, generally speaking, representative of multiple interests beyond your own and therefore feed that back into the machine and use a machine of a epic size government.

Without that, I would be having to make 20 or 30 phone calls across the sector to try and understand an issue that you might be able to refine for me in words of one syllable. I guess you've explained to me what you see the value for some of the potential members and members existing, but from a government perspective, and I think that-- now, I'm in the government, I can say, "Hey, it's incredibly valuable," just because you try to make decisions for a vast group of people, and what you base those decisions on.

Karl: [00:15:15] Before, there were decisions being made about small bars without any consultation. That avenue now is there for them to reach out to us, and they do quite often. Some of the things that we've seen change with small bars since the Independent Bars Association has been around is the controversial minors into small bars, takeaway cocktails, we can now do that post pandemic. We've increased patronage from 60 persons up to 120. And now, you can open up a small bar license quite quickly with an interim license. These are some of the benefits of being organised. Michael: [00:15:55] I was also thinking a little bit about some of the things that have continued to evolve from the creation of the Independent Bars Association. I really like what you said about earlier in this interview, people who are like-minded or seeking a similar experience, I think that's something that resonates with me. We'll come on and talk about YCK in a second, but if you look at the diversity of experiences that are almost cousins, there's a sort of network of different but engaging spaces, personalities, and entertainment offerings in the city, generally across bars, because I think that the personality of the owner tends to shine through those things in a way they can't be repressed.

Karl: [00:16:36] I 100% agree. I think that's another great value of that, because you get to see things from multiple different lenses.

Michael: [00:16:44] And by personality, I mean fashion sense in your case. But let's just start move on to YCK for a second. It's a subject matter that's dear to both of our hearts because of all the blood, sweat, and tears and the effort, particularly in the context of a pandemic. It's got a lot of attention media wise, government wise, and shaping a bit of thinking and questioning, because I think everyone's going, "What's the future?". What is the future of going out, actually? That's one thing I sit here thinking about, I’ve been thinking about for last 10 years, really. Let’s chat about that. Just give us for people who may not be familiar with YCK, why don't you give us a bit of an overview?

Karl: [00:17:22] Yeah. YCK is the acronym for York, Clarence and Kent Streets. In that little-- I think it's a couple of blocks. There's probably about 20 or so small bars in there, 15 of which have joined YCK. And probably for the last five or six years, we've been talking about trying to define it as a district of small bars so when people go out, they go, “Okay, I'm going to the Rocks,” or, “I'm going to the Harbor, but now I'm going to YCK.”. It never really took hold until the pandemic came along and there's nothing like a good pandemic to light the fire under people trying to get them out and about.

Michael: [00:18:03] Let's focus on that for a second. In terms of lighting fires under people, there's two stakeholders here. There's the consumer, but also, there's the venue owners themselves, I think, would you agree with that?

Karl: [00:18:14] Yep. 100%.

Michael: [00:18:16] What was it about the pandemic that brought these venue owners together? Why now, why not before?

Karl: [00:18:21] Put it simply, cash. I think we just all realised the CBD, it was down like 60% on revenue. So, we needed to do something together to create a big bang to get people into the city and into our venues. That couldn't be done by just one person flying the flag for themselves.

Michael: [00:18:45] On that analysis, you would suggest that once the good times roll again, you can just disband YCK, is that what you plan to do?

Karl: [00:18:56] No, there's big plans for YCK. Big, big plans.

Michael: [00:18:59] Why don't you tell me about them?

Karl: [00:19:01] Well, we've done the two festivals already. We did the YCK Block Party, which ran for six weeks, and then we jumped in with the Sydney Solstice, and that was for two weeks. Now, we're currently looking at creating an annual program where each quarter, we would run a four-week festival where typically foot traffic and CBD visitation is down. Then, there's also talks about slightly theming each of those. Basically, we would have four 4-week festivals per year.

Michael: [00:19:34] That's one benefit in terms of balancing our audience or filling the lull period, which demand management or something. But let's go with there's that advantage, but in terms of, YCK, again from its first incarnation, the first festival attracted partnership money from the City of Sydney and the NSW Government.

Karl: [00:19:58] Bacardi, AmEx.

Michael: [00:20:00] Yeah. And Fever-Tree also came on board, if I remember rightly.

Karl: [00:20:03] Yep. Correct.

Michael: [00:20:04] I suppose one of the other things that through my lens, I'm looking at this thinking, well, depending on who you speak to the hospitality sector, as a whole has had challenges with its operating margin for the last few years with rents and cost of labor, and so on and so forth. Anything you could do to diversify revenue streams seems worth thinking about. Also, anything you can do to lower costs is worth thinking about. You and I were talking about someone that had gone to a waste management company and tried to negotiate a bulk waste disposal rate and hadn't got it up, is that right?

Karl: [00:20:36] Yeah, that's correct. So, yeah, if they separated out all of their waste, they could reduce their waste bill, but they have trouble getting a whole bunch of businesses in the area to get on board.

Michael: [00:20:47] And are you looking at things like that for YCK? I guess there's just the sheer challenge of lack of resources during a time like this, and also people not necessarily being focused on matter like that. But do you see that being future value in analysing and seeking opportunities like that?

Karl: [00:21:01] 100%. There's also a great opportunity to look at technology and how we can connect all of those venues together for a better user experience. Michael: [00:21:09] Let's talk about that for a second. What might that look like?

Karl: [00:21:13] One of your famous quotes is, "Two clicks and that keeps people on the couch. One click for UberEATS and one click for Netflix." So, going out is becoming a lot more challenging, and a lot harder. And given now you're in a pandemic or post-pandemic world, there's time limits on venues, there's lower capacity, trying to get a place or have a whole night out is getting a little bit harder. So, imagine you can go to a district that's all talking to each other, through one sort of platform, you can go and book at multiple different venues, have that all sorted and your night's sorted. That's the sort of stuff I'm looking at the moment.

Michael: [00:21:51] I hadn't really thought about it necessarily in terms of the two clicks to stay in and how many does it take to go out conversation. Of course, I'm across that having come up with that brainwave and trumpeted for a number of years. But what I hadn't thought about and you just really sparked the electricity on my Neon Grid, is about the bookings. And the CBD in the return from lockdown, the first one, became like a military exercise with precision. My phone had never been busier in terms of, “Can you get me into these places, Mike?”. It was quite hard because, understandably, our prized venues were Friday, Saturday night.

Here's an anecdote for you, I was living in London once, and don’t ask me why, but I was staying at the Ritz. People had said the service of Ritz is amazing. I'd rung up at 10:00 PM on a Friday night to get a booking in the restaurant in London. I can't remember what it was at the time, and the desk almost started laughing at me.

[00:22:55] To their credit, they came back in 30 minutes and said, “Sir, there's a place for one at 11:30 PM tonight, will you go and take it?". I looked around the room, the other four guys, I'm like, “Well, probably not.”. But I guess the point I was making is that time scheduling is going to become part of COVID normal existence for a little bit, at least, if not on an ongoing basis. And even if it wasn't, for venues that are desirable, with the pressure business model, that could be a potential game changer, I would have thought.

Karl: [00:23:21] I couldn't agree more.

Michael: [00:23:23] With YCK, it's a collection of bars and interim, but you and I were talking, and the 24-Hour economy Strategy really is about diversity of offering. One thing that we recognise is that people go out for a variety of reasons. And in terms of that YCK area, are you engaging with different non-F&B businesses to potentially join or what's going on? Karl: [00:23:44] Yeah, starting to now. The plan is to really not just concentrate on the nighttime, but also include daytime, small boutique, retail, accommodation. So, then you can really start to plan out what a visit might look like to YCK. Michael: [00:23:58] So, that might be a hotel, it might be like a QVB, for example, but it could also be, as I will be needing, a haircut in good time, because I think there's a bunch of barber shops in there, if I recall correctly.

Karl: [00:24:10] There's opportunity for all business types to join. That's what really excites me about the next stage of YCK of what falls out of those discussions.

Michael: [00:24:20] YCK is member funded then? You've incorporated as an association like the Bars Association almost but for a district, and it's people paying fees or what's going on?

Karl: [00:24:31] Yeah, that's correct. So, we've got a whole fee structure. Our website should be updated in a matter of days, weeks, to start onboarding new members, but it is an association.

Michael: [00:24:41] It's such an interesting case study and it reflects what goes on in the UK actually, with what's called a Business Improvement District, which is a concept that a lot of people who are listening in our councils will be familiar with, which is where businesses go, you know what? Actually, if we chip in a bit, it makes sense because we can develop a bit of scale, we can market the district, we can pay someone to actually help manage the show, as I think is really going to be the case in the next couple of years. Government and city councils are going to be pretty engaged with the going out landscape, because the taxpayers require us to have the going out infrastructure, roads, rail, all this kind of stuff is partly what the taxpayer is invested in, and if it's not being used, well, it's a big problem. I think that the government benefits of being able to engage with district, you can look at YCK, you can look at London or the UK, and you'll see the similarities.

Karl, I want to just throw you a couple of questions as we round out. Here's a question for you. COVID-19 has thrown us all a lot of challenges, but also opportunities. What's one opportunity that excites you the most?

Karl: [00:25:46] Well, I think you touched on it before. Government is really invested in looking at districts and helping and making sure they work, and looking at the nighttime economy. In my small lifetime of dealing with government, I've never seen them so open to looking at the opportunities that could potentially lay ahead.

Michael: [00:26:05] Well summarised, and that is experienced that predates the reversal of certain laws and so forth. I think it's good for people to understand that you've been a witness to change in the city. It is government strategy, actually. The thing that I've been employed to deliver is to change Sydney’s narrative, and also make an exciting place for people to come live, work, play, and then ultimately invest to generate new industries of which are the going out economies. So, you'll be familiar in the 24-Hour Economy Strategy of the Neon Grid concept, which is, as I like to put it, how Sydney lights up telling different stories of different neighborhoods at different times of day and night. With reference to YCK, give us your top experience.

Karl: [00:26:48] Well, it'd have to be when I took my wife down to YCK. She listens to all my far-stretched ideas and just shrugs them off. We live up on the central coast. She hadn't been out in the city for, I think, maybe three or four years. I said, “Look, let me take you down there. We'll stay at a hotel in the district, and I'll take you to all the venues.”. When we walked around, and she got to visit all the basement bars and in the back alleys, I got a little bit more preferential service than, I guess, maybe the normal punter would be, but just to see that sense of excitement and exploration of the city, she was like, “I can't believe this never existed before. I can't believe I've never seen this before. This is amazing. How come you didn’t tell me?”. I think that what's really excites me, is touring YCK, seeing people walking around with their phones going, “Oh, this is where Grandma's is. This is where this venue is.”. That's pretty cool.

Michael: [00:27:48] What a great way to finish. The main message there is that it's a great city, let's get out and explore it. I'm sure you'll appreciate YCK, other areas, the more people go out, the more people are prone to experience. The note I'd like to finish this podcast on is that your wife and my wife who get together as two long-suffering people who've had to listen to crazy ideas over a long period of time.

Michael: [00:28:10] Hey, Karl, it's been a pleasure having you on. And honestly from the bottom of my heart and on behalf of many people, thanks so much for your continued steadfast service to the going out sector. Your role has been really seminal in terms of taking the Independent Bars and really, really reshaping the city. I think that if there's anyone in the industry that's listening wants to think about how they can make an impact beyond their own selves and what they can do as an individual, then looking up to you and looking at the movement that you've created, both with the independent bars and YCK, I think they should look no further. On that note, thanks for being the guest on The Neon Grid podcast.

Karl: [00:28:47] My pleasure to be here. Thanks, Mike.

Michael: [00:28:52] Thanks for listening Neon Grid podcast. I hope you enjoyed the episode. To get involved with our efforts to reimagine Sydney's 24-Hour Economy, sign up to The Neon Grid newsletter. You'll find that on the Investment NSW website, which is that investment.nsw.gov.au. Or hit the link in the show notes. You can also follow me, your host, Michael Rodrigues, on LinkedIn. And as always, carpe noctem.


Episode 1. Lindy Deitz

Lindy Deitz is the General Manager of Campbelltown City Council. 

Episode details

The City of Campbelltown in Sydney's south west is home to a diverse demographic on the traditional lands of the Dharawal people. With rapid population growth and a new 24-hour airport due to open on its doorstep, Campbelltown is undergoing an impressive transformation. Tune into this episode as Michael Rodrigues chats with Lindy Deitz, General Manager of Campbelltown City Council on Campbelltown’s strong community and how they’re shaping the future of their city.

In this episode, you will learn about:

  • what 12 to 18 months of research taught the council about the Campbelltown community’s vision
  • the process behind creating Campbelltown’s Master Plan
  • what to expect in Campbelltown’s reinvigoration leading up to 2036.

For more on the transformation of Campbelltown, check out their videos on:

Download the PDFs:

To keep up to date, subscribe to The Neon Grid newsletter

Find and connect with Lindy on LinkedIn

Produced by Pod Paste, in Sydney, Australia.

Transcript

Lindy: [00:00:04] You don't put a vision on top of a community. The community actually need to share with you what their dreams are. I spent the first few years with the community to say, “Well, we don't control the growth, and the growth is going to come whether you like it or not. We either join hands and help shape what that growth is going to look like. Or, we let it just run over the top of us.”

[Neon Grid theme]

Michael: [00:00:28] Welcome to The Neon Grid podcast. I'm your host, Michael Rodrigues. As the state's inaugural 24-Hour Economy Commissioner, I have a huge job ahead of me in revitalising Sydney's dying-out economy. It's been through everything. Lockout, bushfires, and now a pandemic. Suffice to say, it's a job that I can't do by myself. It's got to be done hand in hand with folks across New South Wales Government, city councils all over the state, and working with industries as diverse as sport and comedy, to hospitality and transport.

The pandemic has taught us that quality information exchange between sector participants builds decision making in a rapidly changing world. So, in the coming months, I'll be interviewing the best and brightest from across this stakeholder set. People with different stories, varying perspectives, and with a range of expertise and experience. In amongst all this difference, I'm on the hunt for one unifying trademark, and that's optimism. You will find here a community of city builders with a supersized appetite for reinvigorated Sydney and the wherewithal to making that happen.

There's no better place to start than my first guest, Lindy Deitz. Lindy is the General Manager of Campbelltown City Council in Sydney Southwest, home to a diverse demographic on the traditional lands of the Dharawal people. With rapid population growth and a new 24-hour airport for Sydney due to open on its doorstep in just five years’ time, I'm keen to understand how the area will be transformed, what the opportunities for business might be, but most importantly, how communities will shape the story of place during this time, and in so doing, provide color and texture to Sydney's overall narrative as we go about our work together, making this city the best in the world to live, work, and play.

[music]

Michael: [00:02:14] Welcome, Lindy Deitz. You're the first guest on The Neon Grid podcast.

Lindy: [00:02:17] Thank you very much, Michael, a privilege.

Michael: [00:02:17] It's not certain your only first time, I'm led to believe, but I'll come to that. I want to ask you about your vision for Campbelltown. But before that, and along with many other Sydneysiders, last weekend, I found myself picnicking because it was allowed, and in fine company I should add. This person just happened to be a mutual acquaintance of yours, someone you worked with. I mentioned I was doing this interview, and unsolicited, this is what she said, “You are the most amazing leader ever. A next generation strategic thinker. Someone who leads in a way that is very authentic and from the heart, and someone who creates space for difference and adversity of new ways.”

Lindy: [00:02:53] Wow. Okay.

Michael: [00:02:55] Any idea who might have said that?

Lindy: [00:02:57] Let me guess, Lisa Havilah?

Michael: [00:02:59] Oh, you know [crosstalk]?

[laughter]

Lindy: [00:03:01] Yeah, she's an incredible person. It was an absolute privilege. We learned a lot from each other in her time at Campbelltown. She was pretty amazing.

Michael: [00:03:09] I have known Lisa for longer than I've known you, and I hold her in high regard. It was just one of those nice moments to me, coming on and having someone like Lisa say that she worked with you and give you that kind of applause. But it gave me some context, actually, because the other thing she mentioned is that you may have begun your professional life at Campbelltown City Council, is that correct or is it not quite?

Lindy: [00:03:31] No, not quite. I'm a registered nurse by training, actually. So, my first job was at the Sand in Wahroonga. Second job was at Camden Hospital.

Michael: [00:03:43] And from there, into council?

Lindy: [00:03:44] That's right.

Michael: [00:03:45] How do you go from nursing-- I suppose you're caring for people and then you were living in the area or something like that, and then you--?

Lindy: [00:03:51] Really, it does sound strange to people, but it's not strange at all for me. I'm a very idealistic person by nature, probably picked that up a bit through our chat. I moved from a private hospital in Wahroonga that was incredibly well resourced, probably a little bit spoilt, had a really fantastic philosophy of a holistic approach to nursing. So, I went from being what we call back in the olden days, a charge sister on a 30-bed ward with six staff. And then, when I moved to the Campbelltown local government area, I managed to secure a job at Camden Hospital and I became the charge sister there with one enrolled nurse on a 30-bed surgical medical ward.

Man, I just said, “If I can't do my job properly with high quality, I don't want to do it at all.” My father said to me, “Lindy, you'll absolutely regret it. Your mother and your sister have successful nursing careers.” My brother is a doctor. I just said, “You know what, Dad? Life's too short to be unhappy with what you're doing every day and I just need to go out and find something else.”

[00:04:51] My other passion in life was children and particularly people with disabilities. So, I jumped from there, and actually my very first job at Campbelltown City Council was as a registered nurse in the childcare center setting, and I thought, “You beauty, get away from the shift work, get to work Monday to Friday, predictable hours. How good is this?”. But government very quickly realised they couldn't afford registered nurses in childcare centers. [chuckles] It was only a maternity leave physician, I then jumped across to Greenacre and helped set up a community childcare center over there. And a position came back up in council working with children with additional needs across the whole LGA. So, children from diverse cultural backgrounds, Aboriginal backgrounds, and children with disability and help to help them be included holistically in a childcare setting.

[00:05:40] By then, I'd had my first child, so it was a part time role at the time, I jumped back in, and I also did a period of work while I was doing that with Mater Dei, which is a disability school in the Camden LGA, did a lot of work in in their social setting. And, yeah, I went from there and I've done multiple jobs, had the privilege of doing multiple jobs throughout the council. I think that's probably where my passion for the community came from, because I was working hands-on in the community, worked a lot with the Aboriginal community. And, yeah, I don’t know, opportunities just kept coming up. I was silly enough to keep putting my hand up. [laughs] So, here I am.

Michael: [00:06:18] You're giving me the tinkles here, because I'm new to public service officially, in a sense, it's only six months for me, and just having you describe your background is really useful context to, I guess, understand it has been a lot a lifetime almost of service to an area of Sydney, I guess, that has a diverse community. There's a lot geographical diversity you have covered there between Greenacre, Camden, Campbelltown, obviously. But it also has helped me contextualize what I'm going to talk to you about today a little bit, which is, and I think some 25 years later, potentially, I think from your first day at Campbelltown, you find us here. You've overseen the delivery of Reimagining Campbelltown, is that the name of the document, have I got it right?

Lindy: [00:06:55] Yep, that's it.

Michael: [00:06:56] There's a bit I want to chat to you a little bit about because the Reimagine Campbelltown piece, but then there's also the Western Sydney, Western--

Lindy: [00:07:03] Parkland City?

Michael: [00:07:04] Yeah. Western Parkland City. Can you just explain the Western Parkland City? Where is it? What is it? And how did the areas of Campbelltown and other areas around form or connect to a future city?

Lindy: [00:07:16] Look, I had the privilege of getting involved with the Western Parkland City at its inception. When Greater Sydney Commission was working out, it's a three-city model, we had the opportunity of joining a city deal with seven other local government areas, which was quite unheard of, probably first, very complex city deal arrangement in Australia. We started with this journey with state and federal government, where the conversation was, “Okay, we are all on equal standing here. We all have the opportunity to learn from one another. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of a 24-hour airport being built in our region. Let's join hands and make the most of that opportunity for our communities and create a very special region that people can be proud of, but also one that we can shine the light on in terms of creation of jobs, economy, and absolute pure recreation,” which I don't think the rest of Sydney really truly understands what is out there in that Western Parkland City.

[00:08:25] So, yeah, very privileged to have that opportunity and to work incredibly closely with the other seven local government areas, and with state and federal government, which we're continuing today. I think, in the early days, we were meeting three, four times a week. The mayors would meet once a week of an evening. As you can tell, we've learned a lot from one another in terms of collaboration, appreciating each other's strengths and challenges, and being able to weave that into a really fantastic story of what a great region we have to celebrate and share with the rest of the world.

Michael: [00:09:00] How does the Western Parkland City sit with Penrith, Liverpool, Parramatta, and Campbelltown? Is that a subset of it?

Lindy: [00:09:07] No. It's not actually. The oddball out there is Parramatta. Parramatta is obviously the heart of the central city. Penrith, Liverpool and Campbelltown are the three metropolitan city centers of the Western Parkland City. The remaining LGA form the region in full, but in terms of metropolitan city center definition, it is Campbelltown, Liverpool and Penrith.

Michael: [00:09:30] Yeah, that's good to understand. What I'm teasing out here a little bit is just the potential of collaboration and thinking that's gone into how to essentially leverage existing assets as you're creating new assets and then also regional LGAs to bring together in time, and I think 2036 is a number that keeps coming up in my research that should give rise to huge economic benefits, but also citizen benefits and also hopefully benefits for businesses looking to participate and grow into the region. Would you agree?

Lindy: [00:09:58] Yeah, absolutely. I neglected in mentioning that obviously, the fourth major city center that will be built is Bradfield. That will be obviously the heart and center in terms of, it will be home to the Western Sydney Airport.

Michael: [00:10:12] I had the privilege of coming out and spending some time with you, when we were allowed to do that between the period where we weren't allowed to do it and now, but do you want to just talk a little bit specifically around the Reimagining Campbelltown City Center Master Plan? I'm thinking about all the thinking that you may have been able to take into that in what is an area that has quite a lot of historical context, obviously. And then on top of it is now going to see this period of mass transformation. It'd be helpful to understand how Lindy Deitz looks at Campbelltown on a daily basis and things. How is what we have here today going to change and are we ready for change?

Lindy: [00:10:46] Yeah, okay. Look, it was a bit of an interesting journey. And as you possibly already know, coming from a community services background is quite rare for a general manager/CEO in local government land, it tends to be a planner or an accountant or an engineer or one of those industries. I was actually the first woman to be a General Manager in Campbelltown as well. So, I think I've broken all the rules, I have done everything. I was dearly fond of the previous general manager, and as you can imagine, I worked for a very long time. Actually, in the time I've worked at Campbelltown, I've worked under two, absolutely fantastic, well regarded general managers, sadly both of whom have passed away.

But I guess, when I had the opportunity, and I was successful in getting the role, I have a very big point of difference, because for me, I didn't want to control the orchestra. I actually wanted to hear from the community exactly what they wanted. To be very honest, when I opened the cupboard, the cupboard was fairly big in terms of strategic visioning and direction, well, certainly to my satisfaction, anyway. We spent the first, oh, I think, 12 to 18 months, working with community, industry, and different parts of the sector and government to understand particularly what the vision was of the people, because it doesn't matter what my vision is. You don't put a vision on top of a community. The community actually needs to share with you what their dreams are. I had come from a period of time at Campbelltown where growth was not well regarded. We are the southern gateway into Sydney. We are very typically where country meets city, and people were really struggling with that concept of growth. They didn't want to grow, they didn't want to expand, they wanted to live in their big country town. So, that was quite difficult.

[00:12:43] I spent the first few years of my role, basically educating and talking with the community to say, “Well, listen, as a local government authority, we don't control the growth, and the growth is going to come whether you like it or not. We either join hands and help shape what that growth is going to look like, or we let it run over the top of us.” That's truly how I started the journey. We went out there and said, “Okay, if we face the reality that growth is coming, what is the absolute boundaries, what are the challenges? What are the opportunities? What do you want out of the growth that we can advocate for?”. So, we came out with a vision, the community's vision, and I'm really proud of that, because I can say very genuinely to you, it is the community's vision.

[00:13:29] We then platformed from there into developing our master plan, and it's not any ordinary master plan if you've got to put a community flavor to it, so it can't just be all this boring academic, planning material. It's got to be real and genuine. We wanted to actually define what those opportunities were that were most meaningful for our community. I'm really proud-- a lot of the words that are used in terms of our pillars and the wording in there, are actually our community's words. So, things like they want no gray to be seen, and what that means to our community is that they really cherish the fact that we are a green city. We are in fact, fun point, Australia's first green city. We're nestled in a valley between two rivers, the Georges and the Nepean. We have the beautiful scenic hills to one side, and we have the Dharawal National Park. So, they treasure that. They really treasure their open space, their trees, their paths, their rivers, they celebrate it all. And so they didn't want to compromise that.

[00:14:34] We know that in the urbanisation of Campbelltown, we need to keep the green environment components. Don't then neglect the fact that we are suffering that heat island effect, that Western Sydney does suffer, so it makes sense anyway, but it's actually the true dream and vision of the city. It was quite a lengthy body of work. We worked again through hands on, it was in the time where you could meet face-to-face with the community. So, we were doing workshops with the community, workshops with industry, workshops with government. Just to add a little bit of fun into it, the Greater Sydney Commission were doing-- and I don't know if you heard of them, but they were doing collaboration areas at that time. They started with Liverpool and Penrith, obviously, because there was great opportunity due to their closeness to the Western Sydney Airport. Basically, a collaboration area is where state government sits and helps facilitate all the opportunities of that metropolitan city center by bringing all the state agencies to the table, so that we can cross across silos of agencies, both in local government and state government, and actually all work together towards a common goal.

My poor staff, I think they thought I was just stark raving crazy, because the Greater Sydney Commission said, “Okay, Campbelltown, it's your turn to do collaboration,” and we were well on the way with Reimagining Campbelltown. So, we were really stretched with resources. But you know what? I really feel, Michael, at the end of the day, it was actually meant to be, because what it actually did was they complemented one another. So, that beauty of being able to work so closely with the state government agencies and help share with them what we were uncovering through our master planning journey has absolutely aligned the stars. And we know our time is now, so we're really excited about what we can do.

Michael: [00:16:29] I'm keen to hopefully shed some light on the challenges in pulling together a master plan. I'm looking at a little bit in the context of trying to work with councils specifically around their 24-hour economy strategies, and experience tends to teach that stakeholder alignment is pretty important as one key objective of delivering a 24-hour economy. Is it similar with developing the master plan for the City of Campbelltown?

Lindy: [00:16:54] Our master plan is a little bit different from your traditional master plan. It's probably more like a spatial business plan, because what we have in it is a strategic context and vision. The really important part of our master plan is, we'll put a place framework. Our enduring commitment to six growth pillars, we have 25 commitments that capture the community's values and underpin every decision in the city center. And then, we have our delivery framework, which we have 10 city-making moves that describe the outcomes for the city center to be able to unlock its potential, and that obviously is a living document because it will be refreshed as every change hits us.

Michael: [00:17:35] I'm looking at some of the stats, and these interest me, particularly, its population, currently about 180,000, 25% of residents aged 0 to 17. This is Campbelltown City specifically. 35%, aged 25 to 49. And then, you've also got a significant population that's born overseas, 26%, and then maybe 30% that speak a language other than English at home. I've got that right, have I?

Lindy: [00:17:59] Yeah. The only thing you missed was our significant Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander community. So, we have 5971 at the last census count, and it's growing. It's something we're incredibly proud of, is our Aboriginal community. So that's probably the only thing that we missed.

Michael: [00:18:17] You mentioned, the Aboriginal community has been, in comparative terms, significant. But is that relatively unique? Are there other LGAs that are similarly populated?

Lindy: [00:18:25] No. Look, we're one of the largest in New South Wales actually, we're up there in the top five, I think, last time I looked. So, I think that combined with the preservation of a lot of original land makes us-- our Dharawal land is very precious. So, I do think it does add to our uniqueness.

Michael: [00:18:45] I am a bit excited, and full disclosure, that I did go to school in Campbelltown as you know, and I grew up in Liverpool. In my job walking around the city, if you think back to that metaphor for the 24-hour economy of the Neon Grid and how Sydney lights up at night. I start looking at the world very much through the lens of what are the unique stories of place and people, and how can they be enabled? How can that storytelling be liberated rather than prescribed, if that makes sense? I know the answer to this, but you've essentially got a plan in place that has been shaped by the community for the community. And ideally, as Campbelltown goes through its transformation, the community continues to engage and is able to tell their story through civic participation. Is that fair?

Lindy: [00:19:29] I think that's really critical, yes. So, that is what I'm saying. It's incredibly important that as the demographics change, and they will, and they are, just the changes, for example, in our concentrated public housing estates as they are being redeveloped, is changing our demographics straightaway. Therefore, it is really critical that we get to know the new communities that are moving into Campbelltown and ensure that their visions are reflected in the broader strategic plan for the city.

I think that one thing that is really that I'm incredibly proud of with our master plan is that it's evidence based. I was very strong on the fact that it needed to sit upon evidence and data, so that when we were talking to government or industry, they could feel very confident and sure that what we were saying was actually in real terms, because I don't want to get onto a political conversation, but I didn't want to depend on politics, clearly, to be able to take the city forward. The city needed to move forward on its own terms, on its own strengths. So, everything that we've done is we've got that evidence base sitting underneath it. And part of that evidence base is that continual conversation with community, because if they're not part of it, they're not going to share the significant change that is absolutely going to happen over time.

Michael: [00:20:50] It's always the point of the podcast. I say that because in contrast, and I am no planner, but I think what you've suggested partly is that sometimes, master plans might be done from either specifically a planning-only perspective or an urbanist perspective. And then, I encounter this a little bit with my work as I think about the concept of top-down placemaking, as opposed to bottoms up, if that makes sense. I recite to people the story of Northumberland Street in Liverpool, how you can't suppress culture, because there's a council carpark at the end of Northumberland Street. This is going back some years, I think it might still be there. Of course, no one predicted the arrival of Fijian and Indian community, and that carpark will be turned into a festival site in time, because you can't-- well, you can, I suppose, suppress culture to some degree, but culture will find a way of surfacing.

What's key to the success of the 24-Hour Economy Strategy? I think partly to the success of your master plan, is that community engagement, and being led by the community, actually, I suppose that's probably the broadest way of putting that. I'm going to have this opportunity to ask this one. If you're someone listening from another council that has had a master plan or is working in a structure that has been driven predominantly by place as opposed to community, any guidance?

Lindy: [00:22:04] Look, I highly recommend the approach that we took. I certainly will own it to say that it was scary at times. You have to be fairly brave, and you have to be very open to what you're going to be told. But I'm a very big believer that part of consultation is actually sharing with people the facts and evidence and what sits in front of them. As human beings, we make our minds up in our opinions on things, but they're not often not based on fact. I actually find it's a sharing. When you share with somebody what the reality is, it actually helps shape their view, but also, they then contribute in a much more valuable way, because they're doing it from a context that is more realistic. I think that's the biggest part of community consultation, is being prepared to start from a platform of saying, “Well, hey, these are the things that are the non-negotiables not because we don't want to play nicely, it's just that this is legislation," or, "This is what we have control of," or, "This is what we don't have control of.”. When you base it from there, the conversation can be very open and honest. But you're actually educating each other on the way through.

[00:23:20] Now, I'm not saying that that was easy. There were times where it was really difficult. I do believe that it was worth the pain and it created a more cohesive outcome. And just the relationship building, just having our Aboriginal community there represented with some of our culturally diverse community.

Michael: [00:23:39] What I've observed is that you're better off having those conversations at the front end rather than something falling over at the back end because people weren't engaged or didn't agree. It's time spent upfront versus time spent in other processes later, perhaps.

Lindy: [00:23:51] Yeah, and I think that the heart of a city transformation for us, and this is why I think the placemaking was so important, is obviously amenity. Amenity is what's going to reimagine a place and make a place desirable for people to want to be. A person's experience of a city is key. I think the thing that motivates me and gets me really excited, is when I have-- we're really blessed. We have an amazing cultural arts center in our city. We're very, very fortunate, but it's loved and owned by the community. It's not for the select few. It's absolutely loved by everybody in the community. And we’ll often do international, beautiful, incredible contemporary exhibitions. So, we often attract people from the inner city.

[00:24:42] I remember a very high senior bureaucrat pulling me aside at another meeting, they said to me, “Lindy, I came out to have a look at your latest exhibition and I hadn't been to Campbelltown for 20 years. My goodness, it was just incredible. But when I came out from the exhibition, I had a flat tire and I'm sort of crouching down on the ground trying to figure out what to do with my tire. This person came up to me and I looked at them in a panic to go, ‘Oh, my God, what are they doing?’ And the person said, ‘How can I help you? You look like you're stuck there?’” And he went on and told me the rest of the story, which I won't take up your time with but basically, he said, “I just felt like I was in a country town, and everybody wanted to help me.” I just said to him, “Yes, that's the beauty of Campbelltown. It has never really grown up in that sense.” The person's experience in the city makes a great difference to how you sell it and how you create it. I don't ever want to lose that in Campbelltown because I think that's a very precious component. But amenity is really critical for us, because people look down on us, quite frankly, with Campbelltown.

[00:25:49] We've done a lot of work also on our brand and our image. We didn't make us anything that we weren't though. Again, we took the community on the journey, I'll have to share with you our brand story. I love it. It's amazing. But it's about being real, but actually helping people respect and understand a place for what it is, and how beautiful it can be, rather than looking at it through a negative lens.

Michael: [00:26:15] Yeah. I think it's good to call out that particular elephant, if you don't mind me saying that, it is part of the landscape, isn't it? I guess, partly, if I'm being honest, what drew me to want to speak to you, as I commence this part of my role, because, for me, I've not been asked only to look after the City of Sydney or the CBD of Sydney. This is a cultural and economic blueprint for Greater Sydney and New South Wales beyond. And bringing these stories to life across the Metropolitan, which I know from personal experience, have a depth and a variety to them. I look very much as, I don't want to say this, but like almost an open goal, like, “Look at that. That's amazing, why can we have more of that?” I don't think I'm alone in that. I'm excited. And if I'm excited, then a lot of other people will be as well. Understanding the transformational aspect of the planning of not only Campbelltown city itself, but in the context of the Western Parkland City, is so important for our stakeholders more broadly, and particularly in industry to look at and say, “Well, what are the opportunities here? How can we be a participant in that story?”

Lindy: [00:27:15] It's why I like to come into the city and talk if I have an opportunity to come and talk to people in the city, peak organizations, great industries that are trying to promote Sydney. And that would be my challenge to you with the Neon Grid is, “Yeah, just let's just celebrate. It doesn't have to be the same.” One of the questions that you'd sent me in preparation was, what's the things that light up in my place, and I had to have a little giggle to myself because I don't have those. Our definition of nighttime economy is quite different from probably what most people would expect. But the sort of places that I take you to is go to our beautiful Georges River over an evening and see how many people just enjoy and celebrate the fact that they can see a platypus or a koala. It probably sounds a little bit corny, Michael, but that's our reality.

I talk a lot about the Australian Botanic Gardens. We share that with Camden. We don't talk about local government boundaries when it comes to the gardens because it's a wonderful state government asset. But many people in the city don't even know it exists, let alone understand its beauty, and I cheekily thought, “I'm just going to say to Michael, ‘Well, Michael help me with my cause of advocacy to help Denise just get that place lighten up," because you could do awesome nighttime activity at the Botanical Gardens, because it's just crazy. It's so wonderful. I think that for me, that's the diversity of the beauty, that is Sydney. I think it's great to advocate that it's okay that we're all different, that that's what makes us fun and exciting.

Michael: [00:28:56] And that is, in fact, the plan. And it's such a great story and I was hoping for something like that, because that's the point of difference, isn't it? That allows us to excite people from other parts of the city to come and visit and conversely tell stories for visitors to Sydney in time, where they're entering through the southern gateway or one of the others. Hey, it's been great chatting, and you've already done my last question.

Lindy: [00:29:17] Oh, sorry.

Michael: [00:29:18] Let me then finish the podcast with this question which I intend to ask all guests. COVID in Australia has a lot of challenges, but also opportunities to reimagine Sydney. What's one opportunity that excites you the most?

Lindy: [00:29:35] What COVID has thrown us is that people genuinely don't take things for granted anymore. For us, let me use my example of the Australian Botanic Gardens again. I was really concerned about how they were faring because every time I go to the gardens, it would be full of what I perceived as international tourists, very diverse cultures visiting, taking beautiful pictures, and all the rest of it. When COVID hit the first time, I have to tell you, their visitation increased by 30%. And that was by local community, celebrating and enjoying something that was in their own backyard. I think what COVID has thrown Campbelltown is that opportunity to sell itself as that quality life, that place to come and you can hear the birds singing, and you can have all of those peaceful things that if you're going to get in lockdown, what a beautiful place to be. If you can walk around, even if you're living in an apartment, we have so many parks and open spaces. For me, we will continue to celebrate that and use every opportunity.

[00:30:44] The other thing, if I can quickly add, is our High Street. Prior to the second lockdown, we'd been fortunate enough to get a million dollars for our High Street to do an experiment with the community and reduce parking and build all the beautiful, temporary parklets. The community were loving it, we were having cultural festivals and the whole works, and then we got hit again with COVID. But I'm excited to get back on to that, Michael, because I think that's what people really crave for, is that celebration in high streets and those opportunities to bring them to life where people can eat food together, and children can engage and play, and you can do all of those things. So, I think there's some blessings in COVID, and they're probably my top two.

Michael: [00:31:30] Well, Lindy, it's been an awesome afternoon chatting, and thanks for all the excitement, the passion, and the contribution that you're making beyond your own backyard to, I guess, the wider discourse of ideas sharing for what I hope is a growing number of people that are really committed, and I'm sure it is, seeing Sydney leap forward off the back off what's been a challenging year but into a brighter future. I have nothing left to do but say thank you for being the first guest on The Neon Grid.

Lindy: [00:31:55] Well, thank you very much for the opportunity. I never knock back an opportunity to talk about Campbelltown as you can tell.

Lindy: [00:32:04] So, thank you so much for your time. I'm really grateful.

[Music]

Michael: [00:32:09] Thanks for listening Neon Grid podcast. I hope you enjoy the episode. To get involved our efforts to Reimagine Sydney's 24-Hour Economy, sign up to the Neon Grid newsletter. You'll find that on the Investment NSW website, which is at investment.nsw.gov.au. Or hit the link in the show notes You can also follow me, your host, Michael Rodrigues, on LinkedIn. And as always, carpe noctem.

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