The architect responsible for the transformation of Sydney’s city centre has returned after 16 years to see the product of his work. 

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.

Mr 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,” Mr 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.”

City of Sydney Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, said that Mr Gehl’s contribution to the transformation of Sydney’s city centre is unparalleled. 

“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,” Mayor Moore said. 

“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 2.5km 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.

Mayor Moore said that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to realise Sydney’s potential as a green, global and connected city and a city for people. 

“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.” 

Featured image: Jan Gehl. Image: City of Sydney Council.

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