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If we want to grow Adelaide, we need to plan for it

Poor urban design and the ongoing absence of an underground rail system are just two impediments to accelerated population growth, writes architect Guy Maron.

Mar 15, 2022, updated Mar 15, 2022
Guy Maron is a critic of aspects of the new Festival Plaza, particularly the office tower, the beginnings of which can be seen at top left. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Guy Maron is a critic of aspects of the new Festival Plaza, particularly the office tower, the beginnings of which can be seen at top left. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Various recent articles, including as editorial campaign in The Advertiser, have touched on the necessity of “improving” Adelaide, principally by accelerating growth and thus the economy, thereby building a better future for our state. Then, life will return to “normal”.

No insight is given as to what constitutes “normal” and no mention is made in any of the articles as to the need for better design and how to achieve a better plan.

Encouraging an increase in height of buildings is not necessarily the answer, unless we are becoming obsessed by the ‘bigger is better syndrome’.

There is no argument that we all want to build a better future but the sticking point remains how to achieve it. It seems that the “third most liveable city in the world” accolade may have just happened by accident.

There appears to be a notion that the physiology of the city and state needs to change but yet retain the “most liveable city” nomination. How this is to be achieved is not suggested. I suspect that just “silencing the Nimbys” may not be the answer.

There are two issues that impact on a better city.

The lifeblood of any city organism is transport or roads that alleviate traffic and stop stagnation. This requires forward planning and the anticipation of growth and thus we may avoid contemporary problem areas such as Mount Barker for instance where growth is now proposed to be halted by local council decree as there is no adequate public transport.

When I proposed and drew up an underground rail system for Adelaide and presented this to the transport minister recently there was no acknowledgement of the plan or the idea.

In respect of the above, I note the observation of the Urban Development Institute of Australia that a new 30-year plan is needed for greater Adelaide as “the system is not operating with any genuine connection to what the majority of South Australians value most”.

I believe that what South Australians want most and wish for in terms of affordable housing is a cottage in the suburbs and not necessarily taller and bigger apartments as is being suggested.

“SA has a history of lost opportunities when it comes to truly transforming our city neighbourhoods and country towns”, is so aptly referred to in an Advertiser editorial which brings me to my second issue: and that is, that we, as a state, need to pay much more attention to urban and civic design – an art that seems to have been put on the backburner by our city custodians.

Let’s look at the new Festival Plaza as an example. To place a 27-storey building on this area, to annexe park lands, and to allow a three-storey shopping centre to block the north facade of the Parliament House and deny the significant axis with the Anglican cathedral are very unfortunate things to allow.

Guy Maron’s schematic for how an underground rail system could link key places in the city with the airport and inner north, east and south.

Comparing Adelaide to other Australian cities is instructional: these cities have made decisions based on planning principles that, in most cases, recognise lateral growth and have made provisions for adequate transport. Most of our counterparts interstate have underground railway systems that are very efficient and provide rapid and safe transport. But not so in Adelaide.

The Victorian Government commissioned one of the world’s best architects to design an expansion of its underground rail system, soon to be completed.

When I proposed and drew up an underground rail system for Adelaide and presented this to the transport minister recently there was no acknowledgement of the plan or the idea. The system would have enlivened the Rundle Mall and Victoria Square, both of which have become quite dead public places.

My plan included rapid rail transit from the airport to the city and proceeded from the city to North Adelaide, the east and  south.

Such a system, as is the case in our other capital cities, would allow for bigger and taller buildings if that is what we desire for a city of greater density.

First things must come first and a functional transport and traffic system is a prerequisite for a “taller and bigger” city if that continues to be our desired objective.

Simply proposing a taller city without adequate transport is nonsense.

Guy Maron is an award-winning architect whose practice spans 50 years. He designed the Bicentennial Conservatory in the Adelaide Botanic Garden and the original City West campus of UniSA,

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