Sydney honours Danish architect Jan Gehl

Sydney honours Danish architect Jan Gehl

The man behind the City of Sydney’s plan to pedestrianise George Street, bring inner-city laneways to life and make Sydney a walking and cycling-friendly destination has been awarded the key to the city.

In a ceremony at Sydney Town Hall this week, world-renowned Danish architect and urban designer Jan Gehl was recognised for his contribution to Sustainable Sydney 2030, the City’s long-term strategy for creating a greener, more liveable and better connected city.

Mr Gehl is the second Dane to be awarded the key to the City of Sydney, with Sydney Opera House architect Jørn Utzon receiving the honour in 1998.

In his 2007 study of Sydney’s public domain, Public Spaces Public Life, Mr Gehl made a case for the transformation of George Street into the city’s ‘great organising spine’, with light rail running from Central to Circular Quay and a network of laneways and public plazas in between.

Many of his ideas have since been put into action, with the City working closely with the NSW Government on construction of light rail through the city centre, and the upgrade of 20 laneways already complete.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the renowned urbanist had played a critical role in helping Sydney cement its place as one of the world’s great cities, and one that puts people first.

“Jan Gehl has made an enormous contribution to our city, one that will continue to evolve as we work towards our Sustainable Sydney 2030 goals,” the Lord Mayor said.

“This year marks a decade since we first engaged Jan and his team to draw on their vast international experience to look at both the problems and potential of Sydney’s streets and public spaces.

“Since then, we’ve implemented many of his recommendations – from simple initiatives that make our streets more liveable, like upgrading street furniture and planting more trees, to major projects currently underway, including the transformation of George Street and laneways throughout the city centre.

“I’m immensely proud of this work bringing Jan Gehl’s ideas to life. Sydney is richer for his vision and expertise, and we are delighted to award him the key to what is now a truly global city.”

Mr Gehl is the founder of Gehl Architects, an influential Danish architecture and urban design firm that has worked on major city improvement projects in cities including Copenhagen, New York, London, Moscow, Shanghai and Amman.

He is retired Professor of Urban Design in the School of Architecture at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, and has taught at universities throughout Europe, Canada, South Africa, Indonesia, Central America and Australia.

Mr Gehl is an honorary fellow of architectural institutes in seven countries, has been awarded numerous national and international architectural, planning and urban design awards, and has published several books in multiple languages – however, he has never before been awarded a city’s key.

“I am proud and honoured to receive the key to the City of Sydney – a city that has grown very close to my heart over the last 10 years,” Mr Gehl said.

“Sydney has always been a great city, but for too long it put cars before people. Together, Gehl Architects and the city council under Lord Mayor Clover Moore developed a plan to unlock Sydney’s outstanding potential by making it a city for people, with walkable streets, great public spaces and a vibrant, green heart.

“I am so pleased to see how the City has continued to embrace this vision over the last decade, with a pedestrianised George Street under construction, a thriving laneway culture, and more trees, parks and open spaces than ever before.

“I congratulate the City of Sydney and the NSW Government on this work, and look forward to watching the rest of the transformation unfold in the coming years.”

The presentation of a symbolic key to the city is the highest honour a city can give to an individual or organisation. It recognises a major contribution to furthering the ideals of a city or an outstanding achievement at an international level.

The key to the City of Sydney has also been awarded to Nelson Mandela (1990), Dame Joan Sutherland (1991), Juan Antonio Samaranch (2000), Aung San Suu Kyi (2003), John Bell AO (2015), and various Australian Olympic, Paralympic and other sporting teams and personalities.

For media inquiries or images, contact City of Sydney Media Team Leader Keeley Irvin.
Phone 0448 005 718 or email

For interviews with Lord Mayor Clover Moore, contact Matt Levinson.
Phone 0499319385 or email