16 years after first pitching light rail and pedestrianisation down George Street, the architect of Sydney’s city centre transformation has seen the product of his work for the first time.
World-renowned Danish architect and urbanist Jan Gehl was commissioned by the City of Sydney in 2007 to undertake a study to underpin the City’s long-term strategic plan, Sustainable Sydney 2030.
Drawing from international best practice, Public Spaces and Public Life, paved the way for the Sydney CBD transformation, articulating the need for more space for people, a pedestrianised light rail corridor, new public squares, inclusive design and sustainability.
Gehl recently consulted on the City’s updated strategic plan and visited Sydney to advocate for landmark civic squares – including the upgrade of the public plaza between Sydney Town Hall and St Andrew’s Cathedral – more room for people walking and greener streets.
“A good city is like a good party - people stay longer than really necessary because they are enjoying themselves,” Jan Gehl said.
“The city throughout the history of mankind has been the meeting place for people. Much of the culture of mankind has happened in the public space. Public space is a very important aspect of a good and well-functioning city.
“After being invaded by cars and traffic for 50 years we’re now seeing many examples of cities being reconquered for people. Sydney is an example of this, where the transformation of George Street is a great change.
“If you see a city with many children and many old people using the city’s public spaces it’s a sign that it’s a good quality place for people.”
“Jan Gehl’s contribution to the transformation of Sydney’s city centre is unparalleled,” Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore AO said.
“We have come a long way since 2007 when Jan Gehl said Sydney had turned its back on the harbour, and that it was at breaking point, unable to cope with traffic volumes and gradually being choked in fumes and noise.
“Back then I was in my first term as Lord Mayor and Sydney had had a history of ad hoc interventions rather than considered long-term planning. I wanted to change that and transform Sydney with a vision and strategy to achieve it.
“When we saw Public Spaces and Public Life, featuring George Street as a 2.5 kilometre pedestrian boulevard with light rail as its centrepiece and three large civic squares, pedestrian and cycling networks, green connections and revitalised laneways, I knew we had our vision.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to realise Sydney’s potential as a green, global and connected city and a city for people, and we did so together.
“Once a noisy, polluted traffic jam, Sydney’s central spine is now the people-friendly, tree-lined boulevard you’d expect in an international city.
“Quality public space is fundamental to enjoyable city living and we’re edging closer to making three new landmark public squares a reality.
“We’d like to see a public square at Central station that welcomes people arriving in Sydney, one overlooking the beautiful harbour at Circular Quay and another that functions as an outdoor living room outside Sydney Town Hall.
“Building basic infrastructure for a growing population to function is one thing but providing the physical framework for neighbourhoods to flourish is another.”
There are four overarching themes to Jan Gehl’s vision for Sydney that we work towards every day in the city:
A green and cool city
We’re improving our urban forest with greater tree cover and more hardy species. Additionally, we have landscaped more than 28,000 metres of public space. We look after more than 50,000 trees and 400 parks for everyone to enjoy.
Improved mobility and access
We’re making more room for people with wider footpaths and increased open space. Since 2004, we have installed 25 kilometres of safe, separated cycleways. We also have over 60 kilometres of shared paths and 40 kilometres of other cycling infrastructure. Bike trips in the city have more than doubled in the past decade. The transformation of George Street has provided more than 18,000 square metres of public space.
A city for all
Our city made up of many nations including the Traditional Custodians, the Gadigal of the Eora Nation. Over 50% of our residents were born overseas, and 41% of people speak a language other than English at home. We also have a large population of international students and are proudly a refugee welcome zone. The city is the epicentre of LGBTIQA+ life, history and culture in Australia.
A strong city magnet for people
The transformation of George Street – taking out buses and cars – was the start of a broader re-visioning of all city streets, putting people first. This includes the main streets of our villages, most recently Macleay and Crown streets. Outdoor dining has expanded out into roadways which is revitalising our streets.
More on Jan Gehl:
Jan is regarded as a leading authority in sustainable urbanism and has advocated throughout his career for a people-first public realm and the benefits that thoughtful public space can bring to quality of life and the development of resilient communities. He is an Architect, Founding Partner of Gehl Architects, former Professor and Researcher at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture and current adjunct Professor at Aarhus School of Architecture.
He has published several books including ‘Life Between Buildings’, ‘Cities for People’, ‘New City Spaces’, ‘Public Spaces – Public Life’ ‘New City Life’ and most recently ‘How to Study Public Life’.
As part of Gehl, Jan has collaborated on projects for the cities of Copenhagen, London, Melbourne, Sydney, New York and Moscow, among others. He is an honorary fellow of RIBA, AIA, RAIC, and PIA and remains a prominent speaker, presenting research and reasoning for why making cities for people is more relevant than ever.
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