Better streets and spaces

George Street transformation wins Australian Urban Design Award

The awards honour the highest quality, most innovative urban designs.

Pedestrians bustling in front of the historic queen victoria building in sydney.
George Street transformation. Image: Richard Glover

It’s a project 17 years in the making that will eventually create more than 20,000sqm of green, safe and walkable space.

This year, the City of Sydney won the Built Projects – City and Regional Scale Award for its transformation of George Street.

The Australian Urban Design Awards honour the highest quality, most innovative urban designs.

“One of our finest achievements,” Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore AO said. “What was once a grimy street, clogged with noisy, polluting buses has been transformed into a tree-lined boulevard with quiet and efficient light rail.”

A collaborative road to urban renewal

Jammed with buses and cars, George Street no longer functioned as a street for vehicles.

Danish architect Jan Gehl’s 2007 analysis of Sydney called Public Spaces / Public Life, commissioned by the City of Sydney, suggested transforming the street into a grand pedestrian boulevard with a modern public transport system.

Bringing the project to life took commitment, including consultation with business leaders, stakeholders and the community.

Prompted by the NSW Government's announcement to construct the light rail, this vision of George Street was enabled. Initially pedestrian-only between Bathurst and Hunter Streets, we’ve gone on to create a pedestrian boulevard stretching from Central to Circular Quay.

The win reflects the sustained collaboration between many organisations including Federal, State and Local government, as well as Transport for NSW, Grimshaw Architects, Aspect, ALTRAC Light Rail, Sydney Civil, AECOM, TCL and skilled City of Sydney staff.

Redefining George Street through innovative design

George Street’s distinctive aesthetic was created by planting unique trees and adding new street furniture and custom-made light poles. The street’s character has changed and developed organically as retail stores, restaurants and cafes use the new space in their own way.

George Street. Image: Mark Metcalfe
George Street. Image: Mark Metcalfe

The city centre has become a place that prioritises walking and cycling, social gathering, and providing a greener, cooler environment to enjoy.

Since the first stage of transformation from Hunter Street to Bathurst Street, we’ve been able to extend the pedestrian area all the way to Central, connecting the harbour in a safe and walkable way with less pollution and noise.

In the next two years, we’ll extend this to Essex Street and beyond. creating even more public spaces and shady spots to enjoy in the heart of the city.

The vision comes to life

The Australian Urban Design Awards recognise good design that creates connections between people and places, transforming spaces for community and addressing challenges like climate change.

Jan Gehl on George Street in 2023. Image: Abril Felman / City of Sydney
Jan Gehl on George Street in 2023. Image: Abril Felman / City of Sydney

Last year, Jan Gehl returned to Sydney to see his vision realised.

“A good city is like a good party,” he said. “People stay longer than really necessary because they are enjoying themselves.”

George Street has been returned to the citizens of Sydney, for their enjoyment now and in the future.

Published 26 March 2024, updated 4 April 2024