The annual Vivid Sydney Festival has been a roaring success since its opening in 2009, and this year’s winter festival of ‘light, music and ideas' was no exception, drawing record crowds exceeding 500, 000 to the heart of the city over the eighteen days of the event. The NSW government-funded festival achieved its aim this year of bringing creative energy to not only Circular Quay and the Harbour foreshore, but for the first time in the event’s history, to North Sydney. As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, crowds flocked to see the spectacular light installations at all four vantage points on the second last night of the event. Traffic in the city reached a gridlock and parts of George Street remained closed off for hours, while ferries into Circular Quay reached capacity by 8pm. Surrounding bars and restaurants were “packed”, as were Martin Place and Wynyard train stations, with major public transport delays resulting. Restaurateurs, hoteliers and shopkeepers told the Brisbane Times that this year’s festival had been like “having 18 New Year’s Eves in a row”. Vivid organisers took to social media to advise attendees to allow extra travel time and “explore events outside of Circular Quay”, such as Darling Harbour, Walsh Bay or Milsons Point, and encouraged the use of public transport over cars.
While the event undoubtedly proved a successful return on investment for government funding, and fostered a great sense of community and cultural pride within the precinct, authorities including Destination NSW and the City of Sydney have admitted they were “blindsided” by the event’s success. Roads Minister Duncan Gay told 2UE that extra measures implemented to manage the “quantum leap” in the number of attendees had been insufficient, and the event would now be treated as New Year’s Eve. A ten-year creative industries action plan that recommends further growth for the event was released recently by a NSW Government taskforce, and Vivid’s Creative Adviser has expressed his fear that the growing popularity of the event would see it “loved to death”.
As an un-ticketed, free event that celebrates local artistic talent in a major city, Vivid is indeed set to experience further growth in popularity. This will require more effective crowd and traffic control initiatives including limiting access to certain areas, controlling directional traffic flows, improving public address in high pedestrian traffic areas, a stronger police presence and heightened security. Such measures may help to mitigate the heightened risk of crowd crush that was experienced at this year’s event. Destination NSW Chief Executive told The Australian that the details of Vivid Sydney Festival 2014 are to be released shortly.