Opinion

Defending how Adelaide City is defined.

adelaide

Adelaide City’s Pyramid Form (Nearmap Imagery)

Adelaide is one of Australia’s foremost planned cities, and it is typified with a compelling parkland and grid system.  In the innermost part of the city lies the grid-iron layout, and five central parks: Light Square, Whitmore Square, Hurtle Square and Hindmarsh. The city also features a greater parklands system which surrounds the Central Business District on all sides. However, these were not the most impressive aspect of Adelaide’s planning, from my brief research. The city radiates outwards, with the densest buildings located centrally, and there is a gradual decrease in height and density as buildings approach the parklands. This is often referred to as Adelaide’s pyramid planning. This pattern does not culminate at the periphery of the parklands but continues deep into the residential inner suburbs. It is possible to see from satellite imagery, various rings that cut through the residential districts, and even the residential areas show a neat graduation of density. This is particularly evident in the Northern suburbs. I am not all too familiar with the origins of this city, but it is clear to see that the structure of Adelaide is quite unique, and there is a palpable sense of hierarchy in this city. The Adelaide Council Development Plan would describe these elements as ‘Height’, ‘Bulk’, and ‘Scale’. There are also all the other elements of a hierarchical city composition, such as clear lines of sight that create prominent vistas through the city, as well as landmark parks and commercial towers that are easily identifiable due to the pyramid system.

These qualities are admirable, as there is a sense that the city adheres to a sense of scale, and a wider network. These qualities should not be overlooked, in a rush to address the imperfections of the city.  Adelaide city is unique and should be proud of its merits. The city is faced with challenges such as how to infuse atmosphere, how to reinforce avenues, how to strengthen the functionality of the parkland systems with frontage developments etc. More importantly broad level aspirations such as optimizing land-uses and catalysing development must be considered. Some of these challenges were echoed by Daniel Gannon, the Executive Director of the Property Council of South Australia. Mr. Gannon believes in an Adelaide City with a larger CBD population, and parkland systems that are framed by dense developments, as seen in New York’s Central Park. He is also weary of the low levels of density in Metropolitan Adelaide, and the impact such density has on infrastructural delivery. Presenting Adelaide City as a Central Park styled development would then help to accelerate development and growth. (1)

It has been fashionable to draw inspiration from exemplars of urban parklands to enhance the reputation and character of a city. New York city itself was inspired by parklands from London. It goes without saying, that these urban parklands all have different origins, as well as serve different functions in their various settings. As much as Central Park has become an iconic facet of Manhattan, New York, the initial plans were to continue the grid network, and settlements already existed in the area. (2) The power of eminent domain, carved a natural island within a pre-existing urban system. Central Park is thus a realization of its planners’ aims; revitalizing the city, enhancing city life and creating a safe place for recreation. As successful as the park is, it does not define the structure of New York, to the extent that Adelaide’s parklands inform the structure of Adelaide, at least in theory. Manhattan’s grid system and compactness are its core components, the flexibility of the grid, bridges the foreseen elements of the city, as well as the unforeseen. (3) The compactness of the district is evident in its boulevards and avenues that form dense passages, and frame urban life.

Adelaide is perceived in a different manner, its parklands are not simply urban islands, but facilitate the legibility and character of the city centre. While, there is a need to increase urban density in Adelaide, and perhaps also a need to augment the interaction between parklands, residences and other mixed-uses, this can be accomplished whilst adhering to ‘City Form’. The most central parts of the Adelaide City Centre have yet to be consolidated, and proposals for upmarket apartments, framing the Heritage Listed parklands, can be dense, without being overly imposing. This could also prove to be a model for inner-city housing configurations that rest halfway between unmanageable sprawl and unpalatable over-densification. (4).

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