A collaborative city

The Collaborative City exhibition showcases more than a year’s work of developing inner Adelaide’s Integrated Design Strategy.

The Collaborative City exhibition showcases more than a year’s work of developing inner Adelaide’s Integrated Design Strategy, which was about listening and collaborating to make the city a great place for great people.

“Failing to plan is about planning to fail,” said Winston Churchill. This is true in any field, but especially so in our built environment. Three out of four of us live in urban centres, which explains why the things that make a city are so often discussed around the barbecue, the board table and in our media.

Eighty percent of Australia’s GDP is generated in cities. And they suck up 75 percent of our energy. Adelaide is about average. Three out of four South Australians live in Greater Adelaide. And growth is inevitable. How should we plan, so we don’t fail?

Every day we all make decisions about investing in the environment we build around us. State government repairs and builds new roads, libraries and health centres. Councils plant trees, pave footpaths and master plan public space. Businesses choose where to build, invest and locate. Families decide where to live and for what reason: school, work, relatives. All these decisions involve an investment.

Most of us would rightly assume that decisions made by governments of any creed are based on good evidence and sound research. But a recent audit by just one metro council confirmed for the first time the number of streetlights in their local area. The number varied significantly from what they were being charged by the energy company. A lack of good information has allowed ratepayers to be overcharged – for years. This is just one small example of where costs and inefficiencies lay in the cities we build and how we run them. Do we use energy wisely? Can we move people about more effectively? Can Adelaide be a healthier place the more it grows? Evidence shows it can.

But to get there will need some new thinking. Einstein knew it when he said, “you can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created it in the first place”. So how do we get new thinking? With vision, and a set of principles that we can use to guide the decisions we take together.

In an Australian first, Adelaide has decided to plan its future by working together across boundaries. No other capital city has drawn together its councils, the state government and the Australian government to work jointly. And no other capital city has found a way to involve 74 organisations like community groups and professional peak bodies. And no other has chosen to take a people-first, design-first approach.

This is what makes the Integrated Design Strategy special. It uses a design-based approach to explore issues that often get locked in win/lose arguments. But by harnessing designs capacity to ‘synthesise’ competing interests we’re developing a more inclusive and – compared to traditional planning approaches – innovative roadmap for our collective future.

So is this all motherhood and whimsy? Not if we choose to convert thought into action. Where might we start?

Next time you’re headed in to the city from the airport ask yourself; is this the gateway Adelaide deserves? Across 10 lanes of bitumen, a Hungry Jacks sits in the forecourt of a Shell service station. The great windowless form of the Australia Post mail exchange looms behind, a furniture warehouse in the foreground.

Welcome to Adelaide; a place that celebrates its heritage as Australia’s first planned city. A city that’s uniquely connected to nature, to endless ancient landscape and limitless sky.

Well, almost. Or, not quite. Not yet, anyway.

So what will change our city gateway from ‘gas station grunge’ to ‘metro Mecca’? Business as usual would see individual sites bought and developed. Each site might do what it can to provide some open space – wherever fits. But a more coordinated approach that looks at this whole precinct – from West Terrace to Morphett St, from Gouger to Grote St – would allow some big planning to look beyond the ‘site’ to the scale of the ‘precinct’. Taking a big picture, joined up approach to this whole precinct we might see existing Victorian cottages as a new village heart, supported by mixed communities of shops, offices, apartments, townhouses, bars and maybe a tram stop. In some work prepared by global design and engineering practice, ARUP, taking this big picture approach shows more affordable housing, more young families, more heritage retained, more open space and more return to a developer. What if a different way of doing things meant a gain for all of us? It would mean council, state government and private sector working better together.

Of course, another contested area is our wonderful parklands. A true global asset, these 832 hectares swallow New York’s Central Park many times over and represent one of Adelaide’s many points of difference.

As more people choose to live around the inner metro area – closer to shops, schools and public transport – high quality green space will be even more important for them. It may mean walking a dog in the morning or biking on a weekend; reading a book under the shade of a tree or being part of a multi cultural festival. Working with Adelaide Landscape Architecture practice Oxigen, we asked how we could protect this critical asset but see the parklands as the bridge – not the moat – to surrounding communities. Councils working together to connect the parklands to the surround.

The Integrated Design Strategy was always more than just another urban design project, but Premier Jay Weatherill put it best when he said the “solution for South Australia to rise to its challenges and to grasp its opportunities, realise the ambition of being one of the great small cities of the world, will depend on two fundamental points. One is our livability – how good it feels to be in this place. And second, our ingenuity – what it means to actually grasp the opportunities that exist in an ever changing world, seeking to do new things, to take advantage of our traditional strengths, but respond to the challenges that we know are being put in our way and are making it imperative for us to be dynamic and change to live in a highly competitive world.”

Over the last two years, the Integrated Design Strategy has sought to do both; to leverage our unique quality of life, and redraw our future based on ingenuity and innovation. Two things design does well.

Tim Horton is the Commissioner of the Integrated Design Commission The Collaborative City exhibition is a part of the ongoing open channel with community in developing an integrated design strategy for inner Adelaide. Open from 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday until Thursday, November 8 at Tuxedo Cat, 200 North Terrace.

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