Sydney_Gehl_City_Urban
A new vision for Sydney is on the horizon. Image – Canva
  • International urban design experts have conducted a study into Sydney's public spaces and public life
  • Recommendations range from free wifi to transformed streets
  • The new vision for Sydney may see a new and improved city, in time

With Sydney’s latest study into public spaces and public life fresh off the press, a new vision for the city’s future is emerging. A vision that prioritises people.

The study was lead by international experts in urban design from Gehl. Their recommendations will direct the city’s progress towards sustainability. But it seems the transformation will take time as the City has a long term plan for a ‘Sustainable Sydney by 2050’.

The study recommends a continuous harbour walk, the creation of three new major squares and more room for relaxing, cycling and walking.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore believes the new Gehl study will help the City further its aspiring aims to be more attractive and livable.

“Cities need to be enjoyable to walk through and relax in. More quality public space, or outdoor living rooms where people can meet and socialise, supports a healthier, more equitable and economically viable city centre.”

Lord Mayor Clover Moore

“We’re looking beyond traffic and basic infrastructure to create a city people want to live, visit, work and spend time in,” the Lord Mayor said.

“The pandemic has thrown a spotlight on how critical quality outdoor public space and active transport links are. It has also shown that through strong partnerships between all levels of government, businesses and the community, we can transform our city.

“A city that has accessible and enjoyable public spaces is a great invitation for everyone across greater Sydney to come and explore.”

The latest study is not the first study Gehl has conducted into Sydney’s public spaces and public life.

“In 2007 we commissioned Gehl to help us on this path, and we’ve followed many of their recommendations in the 14 years since. 80,000 square metres of public space has been added to the City’s footprint, George Street is now a pedestrian boulevard, we have a light rail corridor with space for people to walk and sit, and lively city centre laneways are buzzing with diners and artworks,” Lord Mayor Moore said.

Gehl reported several criticisms regarding the current functioning of the city centre. Some of the challenges that still need addressing include the cars dominating the streets, busses having too much free reign in the city (and not being electric) and overcrowded footpaths and disconnected cycleway.

Other issues that are yet to be tackled are the need for more areas for people to socialise and exercise, better connection between the harbour, parkland and more features to entice both young children and older adults to the city.

The study also identifies room for improvement in climate action. It highlights the essential importance of tree planting and landscaping.

In light of these areas of weakness, the following four categories of recommendation have been put forward.

1. A green and cool city

A continuing effort to prioritise emission control and greening align with waste and water regulation have been highlighted. An increasing tree canopy, greening, biodiversity, and shade structures in the public domain has been recommended. Links between the city, parklands and harbour should be improved.

2. A protected heart

Traffic dominated stress should be elevated and rather become people friendly.

This can be done by capitalising on rail networks, as they are the most efficient transport.  Increased space for walking and recreation can help with this ‘protects heart’, as well as connecting cycle networks across the city. The Western Distributor and the Cahill Expressway should be reevaluated.

3. A city for all

The public domain can be made more attractive to people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds.

This can be achieved by providing welcoming spaces, creating more facilities for children, hosting events that underpin an inclusive city, promoting diversity of land use, supporting a 24-hour city, closing streets at lunchtime, expanding the use of community buildings and ensuring free wifi access.

4. City identity

A part of creating Sydney’s city identity includes more space for people to move around and dwelling spaces for people to stay more comfortably in the city.

This can be achieved by utilising George Street as a spine linked by squares at Circular Quay, Sydney Town Hall and Central.  George Street can be made greener and more pedestrian friendly by expanding on the walkways.

Creativity will play an important role in Sydney’s identity with Gehl recommending the support of public art and creative expression. This will expresses Sydney’s identity and engage more people.

“City centres are important and what were once considered radical ideas have been implemented with urgency over the past year,” world-renowned Danish urban designer Jan Gehl said.

“We’ve been jolted into seeing what qualities our shared spaces – or lack thereof – truly provide for daily life and collective wellbeing. With this new, visceral perspective of place, we have better conditions for people, to walk, bike and gather in cities.

Jan Gehl, Urban Designer

“As changes transition from temporary measures to permanent design we must continue to champion cities for people as a true antidote to the many social, health and equity challenges we will continue to face.

“It’s been a privilege to watch Sydney tackle its challenges and a greener and more people-friendly city is emerging. Mindsets have changed and I really look forward to witnessing the city’s ongoing transformation in the coming years.”

So what does Sydney’s new vision mean for its future? There appear to be exciting changes ahead.

1. Green Avenues

Speaking at The Sydney Morning Herald’s Infrastructure Summit last week, the Lord Mayor revealed long-term plans for four new ‘Green Avenues’; the roads identified include Broadway, Park Street, Oxford Street and Botany Road. These are to be transformed by reduced traffic, increased tree plantings and space for people.

Botany Road – Before
Botany_Road
A current Image of Botany Road. Source – City of Sydney
Botany Road – After
City_of_Sydney
An imagined perspective of Botany Road’s future. Image – City of Sydney, Studio Zanardo, Gallagher Studio & MAKO Architecture 

“The successful transformation of George Street provides inspiration and a template for the redesign of streets as places for people, and places where people can linger rather than simply rush through,” the Lord Mayor said.

“We have looked at the next opportunities for greening and pedestrianising the heart of our city, including the transformation of four major arteries into Green Avenues, with measures to reduce and calm traffic, plant trees and low-level gardens and introduce water harvesting and recycling.

“These ideas are the types of transformation made possible given the State Government’s investment in Metro and light rail – and much like when we proposed light rail in 2007, are a vision of what we could achieve by 2050.”

2. Broadway

A proposal for a reimagined version of Sydney’s western gateway as a neighbourhood high street. This would mean reduced traffic making way for trees, pedestrians, public transport and cyclists.

3. Park Street

Park Street is also the subject of some reimagining.  The street could create an east-west axis for the city centre, with tamed traffic and more space for people waking and cycling. Under the proposal, traffic is instead directed to the Cross-City Tunnel. This would benefit commuters from the future Pitt Street Metro station, reunifying Hyde Park and providing an appropriate edge to the planned Town Hall Square.

4. Oxford and Flinders streets

Last year, plans were announced for a new cycleway on Oxford Street to Taylor Square. Now this project has been expanded.  The cycleway is to be extended to Centennial Park’s Paddington Gates. This will help reduce traffic and create a more pleasant environment for pedestrians, and the many businesses along the strip.

5. Botany Road

Sydney’s southern entry along Botany Road has a now-obsolete reservation for road widening. The city of Sydney has suggested that this could give an extra 5,000 square metres of space for people and nature. The repurposed space would encourage new active uses.

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