Since the lockout laws hit our city in March 2014, we have seen the movement of night-time crowds to other open areas. Newtown is one such drawcard, and continues to feel the influx of crowds that might otherwise be heading to the CBD.
Newtown, is a highly unique suburb of Sydney, and stands out as one of our most welcoming, progressive locales. It has built this vibe through its residents and visitors, many of whom feel that their differences can be celebrated here. It is a place to celebrate ‘weirdness’ and it revels in that – businesses and residents alike. It has long been a safe place for the LGBTIQ community in particular, who are often ostracised from the ‘straight’ feel of many parts of the City’s nightlife.
The community voice of Newtown is particularly engaged and in-touch, and it has spoken about the changes that it has seen:
Residents, repeat visitors and even workers, have all spoken out on the changing local vibe. Many say, Newtown is drawing people who are without an appreciation for the culture of Newtown. People who could always count on their differences being respected, suddenly feel threatened and unsafe. This was patently demonstrated last year through the horrific bashing of trans woman Stephanie McCarthy, leaving many trans people, in particular, feeling displaced and unsafe.
If left unaddressed, this will fast lead to the dislocation of Newtown’s residents, and with it, the loss of a wonderfully inclusive and creative community.
The Newtown Neighbourhood Centre has facilitated community forums looking at how to save Newtown’s vibe. Through this engaged community response, the Friday Night Vibes program was born. With a grant from the City of Sydney, Friday Night Vibes has been able to run a successful trial, due to end in April.
The project has focused on saving Newtown’s vibe, and establishing – at the first point-of-contact -that this is an inclusive and friendly space.
Visitors have been greeted with flowers by smiling ‘Newtopians’; suitcase markets have opened up; live music has been in full-swing; there are chill-out spaces for positive social interactions; and free popcorn… a gesture of goodwill. This has had a direct and noticeable impact in keeping Newtown open, friendly and inclusive.
Most of all, it has given the community the key to use their own creative voice, and come up with the solution to these changing dynamics. Newtown has always been a creative, community-led space, and Friday Night Vibes is a strong example of this.
The Newtown Neighbourhood Centre is looking to reinstate this successful program, and if possible, expand it. However it will need the financial support to enact these creative ideas. If left alone, Newtown’s culture could fast be jeopardised, and it is for this reason that I call on the City to consider a more permanent funding system for this important program and others like it. Friday Night Vibes is working, and we must nourish it. We must enable the community’s ideas to continue to thrive, to ensure that Newtown as we know it, will survive the changes that have been thrusted upon it.
See my Notice of Motion here.