Fine Grain, Global City: Jan Gehl, Public Space and Commercial Culture in Central Sydney

Donald McNeill

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McNeill, D. (1). Fine Grain, Global City: Jan Gehl, Public Space and Commercial Culture in Central Sydney. Journal of Urban Design, 16(2), 161–178.

There is growing awareness among many city councils that their downtowns or central business districts have become bland or devoid of sufficient cultural activity to attract the highly skilled, creative workforce that is seen as a prerequisite for competitive success. This paper examines a recent set of policy initiatives to have emerged from the City of Sydney Council that has explicitly sought to mitigate the negative design outcomes of earlier phases of modernist office development through the promotion of a ‘finer grain’ urbanism, based around support for small shops and services, civic spaces oriented towards pedestrians and the reinvigoration of intra-block laneways enlivened by small bars and cafes. The noted Danish urban designer Jan Gehl was an important agent in the development of these strategies, along with the success of similar policies in Melbourne, illustrating the significance of globally operative design professionals and inter-city learning. However, these policies have not gone uncontested, and the paper examines the political context that surrounds their implementation in central Sydney.

Main finding
The case study finds that recent strategies implemented by the City of Sydney Council to animate the street life and economic diversity of its central business district involved a multi-pronged strategy of re-regulation and policy making, and political machination by an independent Lord Mayor and slate of councillors with minimal input from the major political parties but with qualified support from property and business lobby groups. Jan Gehl's proposed strategy referenced the popularity of laneways policies in Melbourne, Sydney and other Australian cities as a significant phase of CBD design that embraces civic heritage.

Description of method used in the article
Analysis of Sustainable Sydney 2030 and Jan Gehl's public domain strategy

Policy implications

Organising categories