Regenerate or Die: RAH Site’s Future

The test of a City isn’t the avoidance of arguments; it’s the ability to have robust and mature arguments. This could be the philosophy applied to the redevelopment of the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site.

The old adage that there are two sides to every story could not be more relevant when discussing development plans for the Royal Adelaide Hospital site on North Terrace.

While this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create an incredible space that we can all be proud of, it is also a decision that is going to divide the community – perhaps more so than we have ever seen before.

It is important to remember throughout this entire process that the test of a city isn’t the avoidance of arguments; it’s the ability to have robust and mature arguments where both sides listen to one another. Unfortunately recent history has shown this is not exactly a strong point for Adelaide.

I am slightly torn as part of me believes that the RAH site is part of the park lands and therefore shouldn’t ever be used for private or commercial use. However, I also understand that it certainly hasn’t acted as part of the park lands in a very long time. And then there is the fear of lost activity in the area – surely all those staff and patients provided an economic boost to the East End? But then again, are we so insecure about the attraction of the East End that we believe nearby buildings full of un-well people are the primary reason it thrives?

If we trust the East End is going to survive without the hospital, then what is the real imperative to redevelop? The truth is there are lots of reasons – here are just a few:

1. All living things must continually regenerate or they will die. Cities are no different – a dark and quiet quarter of empty buildings will certainly not do our city or our confidence any good.

2. Opportunities to make large-scale interventions in the future of a city are rare, sometimes only once in several generations. Therefore they must be carefully considered
and approached with imagination and patience.

3. Whether it is redeveloped into lush gardens or dense apartments it will change us as a city for years to come.

The first person to move into an apartment on the old RAH site will be the first person – apart from the State’s Governor and his/ her family – to legally reside within the park lands. This is not something to be taken lightly, nor is it reason alone to prevent it. It’s simply worthy of reflection.

believe the key to the long-term success of projects such as this is to structure the discussion as a community debate and not as a political one. When projects such as this become politicised there is a tendency for decisions to be made based on shorter term (election cycle) thinking rather than multi-generational timeframes.

With the recently released plans, I’m very pleased to see so much of the site become botanical gardens. This is possibly the last chance for the gardens to expand and engage more with the CBD – let’s hope this plan doesn’t change.

I also believe that it is important for Adelaide to stop shuffling the things we already have around to artificially create activity. It’s time that we started thinking about creating new things; things that we don’t already have. With this in mind, I’m very glad to hear discussion about the potential inclusion of new social and cultural elements.

While the concept images presented by Commercial and General are certainly appealing and building anticipation, I’m personally eager to see the detail of what is to come. Proof will certainly be in the pudding.

Gerald Matthews is the Managing Director of Matthews Architects
matthewsarchitects.com.au

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