Sharing the love: Remembering the suburbs in the post-COVID recovery

After two years of lockdowns and limited mobility due to COVID-19, much has been written about the need to revitalise our flagging Central Business Districts (CBDs). From amendments to Planning Laws to allow 24-hour trading to the injection of funds for live music and artistic performances, there is no shortage of ideas for increasing foot traffic in these key districts. Largely missing from the conversations to date however, are the benefits and the opportunities available to local governments in this brave new world and the vital role that Out of Home advertising can play.

Shifting how we move and where we work

According to research firm Kantar, COVID-19 has driven a surge in “localism” around the country. More than simply a ‘Buy Australian’ catchcry, this sharp shift in both consumer behaviour and mobility has seen an increased focus on local neighbourhoods, cafes and shopping centres as residents have both the time and the disposable income to invest in businesses close to their home.

Many organisations with a base in the CBD have now settled on a hybrid working policy. The most recent statistics from The Property Congress show that 15 per cent of office-based workers will be based permanently at home, while a further 30 per cent will spend between one and three days in their office each week. Importantly – and this is key for local governments – 26 per cent of those working from home want a local co-working space, while 24 per cent want to work in a local café or restaurant. This is a startling shift when, just two years ago, less than five per cent of the workforce was based away from the office. These statistics offer a vital insight into the resilience building and ‘future-proofing’ that local governments can undertake when planning new developments and assessing the viability of their Local Environmental Plans (LEPs) to ensure that they are catering to the needs of their residents.

Getting to know your neighbour

There is more to this story than economics though; the struggle of millions of Australians with loneliness and social isolation during the pandemic is well-known – and while the lifting of restrictions has seen some able to reinvigorate their old social networks, there is a multitude of evidence to show that it is the strength of our connection to our local amenities that keeps us all happy and engaged. Improved community connectedness during COVID-19 was realised in a variety of ways, from meeting our neighbours to supporting those who were elderly or medically-vulnerable to ensuring that our local shopping centre had our full support. All were of benefit to not only each local government area, but also to the community members themselves who experienced increased confidence to maintain their own wellbeing while supporting the wellbeing of others.

The big question now for local government and the private sector alike is: How do we build on this momentum and cement the suburbs in the psyche of our nation?

Using Out of Home (OOH) for good

With a company purpose of ‘Making Public Spaces Better’, oOh!media is deeply invested in over 100 local councils around Australia. From building and maintaining bus shelters that reflect an area’s unique local heritage, to building data platforms to help retail centres inspire and inform their customers – our focus and presence in local communities is stronger than ever as we emerge from the pandemic.

We also know that helping small businesses utilise the power of our advertising assets is a valuable investment for us and an effective way to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to local government. In June 2022, we will be launching the oOh!media Small Business Boost program – the first of its kind in outdoor advertising – to help local businesses access media packages that would traditionally be out of their reach. The program will see us provide $100K worth of media space to each small business in the program to allow them to create hyperlocal targeted campaigns across our Retail and Street Furniture network over a 12-month period. The program highlights the confidence we have in localism continuing to be a key focus for all Australians in the coming years.

Finding the right balance

CBDs will continue to hold a place of great importance in Australian culture. They are frequently the first stop for all visitors to our shores and – regardless of the challenges of post-pandemic life – will always be a vibrant hub of creativity for us to enjoy. But in our desire to push a return to our past, it is important to remember the vital role that the suburbs have played over the last two years and to commit to ongoing investment and growth in partnership with local governments, small businesses and the people at the heart of these great communities.

This article was first published in Council Magazine.