Imagining a city beyond it’s post code

Pic credit: HASSELL

Pic credit: HASSELL20120912-001728.jpg

Experience, and history, tell us that all cities have their moments. Cities like Christchurch have their moments of tragedy, and seemingly impossible challenge. In rallying to the challenge, the successful ones aren’t afraid to rethink old ways. To rewrite ways of working, and to re-evaluate what they once saw as important.

Adelaide is no Christchurch. There is no obvious crisis here. So perhaps we can roll on as always. Rehearse the same ways of thinking that have worked for us – sort of – in the past.

Not so.

Experience, and history, tell us that all cities have their moments. Many cities have ridden a crest; and enjoyed a period of growth and wealth. But got lost in the moment; failing to plan ahead. Adelaide has traditionally worked pretty well ‘in the moment’ but we know we can do better in planning ahead.

According to more than one study, Adelaide is Australia’s most Liveable city; in what The Economist thinks is one of the most liveable countries in the OECD. Adelaide’s challenge is to avoid the hubris of this tagline, and start now to develop a strategy that ensures we thrive in a more competitive, more carbon-constrained world. Architect, inventor and engineer, Buckminster Fuller believed the best way to predict the future is to design it. Too right. That’s why we need a design strategy for the city. That’s what 5000+ aims to do.

5000+ is a project conceived in 2009, funded in 2010 by the
Australian Government, launched in 2011, with the results to be delivered in 2012.

5000 itself is a postcode. A centre. A place. But the ‘+‘ asks us to think beyond just the centre. Beyond the centre as a physical place, and beyond todays constraints.

5000+ a project of city re-design, and city renewal. It’s about re-conceiving what’s important to us as a city-wide community, and reflecting this in the policies and programs that allow (or prevent) change from happening. And critically, reflecting this in the projects delivered by both private and public sector across the City of Adelaide and the seven adjoining inner Adelaide council areas.

It’s also a national pilot for doing things differently. Like all of Australia’s major cities, Adelaide needs to build a model for more integrated decision making. One that’s founded on the concept of ‘shared value’ across those 8 council areas. We need to start designing Adelaide’s future now. A future that works seamlessly across boundaries; beyond individual sites or interests, beyond disciplines and beyond the old distinction of public and private.

5000+ represents a once in a generational chance to design and plan for the future and effect real, and lasting change. Its over-arching goal is to create a vision for inner Adelaide that sets the direction for the long term.

But what does any of this mean? What decisions do we need to make now, and what impact might they have? Take the ambition for around 15,000 additional residents in the CBD over the next 30 years. Where should they go? This is a design question. We could position all new housing along the city’s transit corridors; located close to bus, tram and train lines. This might suggest a bias to new buildings along Morphett St, Currie and Grenfell St, Pirie St, Frome Rd etc. This makes sense for convenience, and to enliven small business and investment along these major routes.

Or maybe we should locate new housing near city green space; our squares and overlooking the parklands? This would make sense for the access it offers to open space and outlook.

Yet another option would be to concentrate new housing towards the centre of the city. Perhaps encircling Victoria Square where a number of taller buildings have already set a more urban feel. In an extreme example, one quick study suggests we could concentrate the entire population imagined in the 30 Year Plan within the CBD alone. No new fringe or infill development. An additional 560,000 residents could be accommodated in Adelaide’s ‘square mile‘ if our key ambition was to preserve existing surrounding communities ‘as-is’. To ‘freeze dry’ communities and suppress development outside the city footprint.

Of course, a consequence of this would be 30 storey residential towers in the city throughout. Our ambition to retain and celebrate our heritage buildings would be supplanted by our ambition to retain todays urban form across Greater Adelaide. Sure, an extreme point. But it goes to show the targets – the guiding principles – we set today help build the city of tomorrow. And while the example is CBD-based, the same goes for all of the inner metro Councils. How should the communities of Prospect, Unley or Charles Sturt manage their own growth? What are the unique characteristics of the 8 Councils that define their individual identity? What qualities are shared and how might they shape the way new businesses, new residents and new industries are planned – and welcomed – into existing communities.

All of these scenarios challenge todays development framework. 5000+ aims to help Councils deliver smarter development plans that encourage good design, rather than just regulate land use. And to encourage industry to play their part in delivering higher quality projects.

Over the next few months, 5000+ will start with a clear-eyed conversation about the opportunities and trade offs involved in designing the communities we want. Not just the physical form of urban development. Beyond the question of ‘form’ sit questions about what’s important to us. If it’s a cosmopolitan city with great local shops, then how do we best go about achieving this? Can we encourage diversity by radically rethinking the way we provide low cost housing for students, new arrivals and those who want to age-in-place? If it’s about making school drop-off less arduous, then how might this inform investment decisions about public transport or streetscape safety and amenity to encourage more walking, and less traffic chaos? Maybe it’s about ensuring that any change in our urban form retains sun access to our parks and green space, then how might our building shapes, and land use patterns change over time to reflect this?

“Curating” the conversation about something as complex as the inner Adelaide area requires careful thought. 5000+ starts by engaging thinking around 5 key areas. Through a multiplatform, tailored engagement strategy embracing traditional and social media, 5000+ will stream a series of forums and public workshops based on five themes: Liveable City, Green City, Moving City, Vibrant City and Leading City.

Any conversation about a cities future needs to understand the physical, ‘spatial‘ implications. That’s why we’ll be ‘design testing‘ ideas along the way. Asking the question of change by visualising its opportunity in maps, plans and 3 dimensional images.

The ‘design testing’ aims to ‘roadtest’ those guiding principles emerging from community priorities and values. These concise statements will be a common reference point for future design, program and policy development. They should deliver more holistically sustainable outcomes, make projects more effective, and deliver greater value for money. Community ambition made measurable in government and industry action.

Out of all this we aim to build new models for decision-making that are integrated, collaborative and inclusive – involving all spheres of government and industry – so that decision-making on project initiation, planning and delivery is more considered, has more impact, and delivers even greater value.

We need a design strategy to help us map a common vision that Federal, state and local government can refer to. That’s what 5000+ hopes to do.

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