Circular Quay

Waterfront near Sydney Opera House and city centre
Sydney, Australia

Contributed by Project for Public Spaces

In many ways, Circular Quay is the "heart of Sydney," and its success is due to the essential role it plays in the city's daily life.

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Why It Works

One end of the Quay connects to Jorn Utzon's famed Sydney Opera House, and the other with The Rocks, an area that constitutes Sydney's historic "original village." Ferries, subways, trains and buses arrive and depart from the Quay, making it a transportation hub for commuters, tourists and others. It also serves as a pedestrian connection among some major tourist attractions, and has services along its length oriented both to tourists as well as locals: fresh produce stands and food shops selling fish, bread, meats, and wines, etc.

The Quay's appeal for locals is its function as the essential transit center for the central business district. A majority of downtown commuters live across Sydney Bay and use ferries to travel to work. With its aesthetic, practical and efficient qualities, the Quay functions as an effective transition space between the docks and the downtown.

Both locals and tourists alike delight in the comfortable and well-maintained space that the Quay provides. Small cafes and restaurants serve light lunches to office workers, who also make use of the benches and walls situated along the Quay. Tourists and families are attracted by the buskers, spectacular views, and details such as the Writers' Walk - a pathway from the Quay to the Opera House tiled with plaques commemorating Australian writers (including Peter Carey, Miles Franklin, and Germaine Greer) and those who focused on Australia (Charles Darwin, Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain).

History & Background

Sydney, a city graced with copious sunshine and sheltered from the wind by protecting ridges, has grown up around its waterfront; indeed the waterfront is a national focal point. Circular Quay gradually built up at the side of Sydney Cove, the 1788 landing-place of the British convict ships which brought Sydney's original citizens. Circular Quay is the "hard edge" along the water - essentially, it is a public space connecting transit, pedestrian and civic elements. Framing the Quay are Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, among the most popular and internationally known images of the city and the country. The Quay is a perennial site for civic celebrations; in 1994, for example, crowds gathered there to celebrate the awarding of the 2000 Olympics to Sydney.

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