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Article: Fall of the House of Adelaide

Posted: Thu Feb 02, 2006 6:29 pm
by Howie
A bit of a lengthy read, but it does raise some very interesting points. ... ory2.shtml

Fall of the House of Adelaide
When state government amended the Local Government Act in 1984 it unwittingly sent the City of Adelaide on a downward spiral.

THE Report on the Metropolitan Area of Adelaide of 1962 happily predicted there would be no dwellings in the Adelaide square mile within 30 years. Government town planner Stuart Hart envisaged a city of office towers, shops, light industry and parking buildings. Each morning its workers would arrive by car from their satellite suburbs and backyard lifestyles, to which they would return each evening. We were going to have our own American Dream. Some years later, city engineer Hugh Bubb went overseas on a fact-finding mission and discovered the consequences of unfettered urban sprawl in North America. A postwar car-powered wave of human settlement had claimed vast tracts of rural land and, in the process, abandoned the city core, leaving it to the poor and the marginalised. Bubb returned to lobby city and state on the dangers of Adelaide falling victim to the same process of decentralisation.

The city responded by developing blueprints and processes aimed at safeguarding its future and reconnecting with the civic ambitions of its founders. In 1967 the newly formed State Planning Authority announced its Plan for the Future. One of the objectives was the modest aim of getting the population of the city up to half that of its historic peak – 46,000 in 1920 – within 30 years. By 1970 rejuvenation strategies were being implemented. One was to provide relatively cheap but high-quality rental housing. Although the SA Housing Trust had been in operation since 1936, it had never built city housing. In partnership with the government – as had mostly been the case for major projects in the history of Adelaide the city/state – the city provided the land and, in conjunction with luminaries such as planner Hugh Stretton and Housing Trust architect Newell Platten, oversaw construction by private builders.

Adelaide was also paying close attention to the urban planning framework being developed in Sydney. The outcome was Sydney’s first Strategic Plan, and its creator, George Clarke, was lured to Adelaide to repeat the process. The work of Clarke came to fruition as the first City of Adelaide Plan in 1974 and resulted in the city’s first planning department being established. It was the most innovative blueprint for the growth and management of an Australian city, and possibly the world, of its time. In keeping with the projections of 1962, the Adelaide CBD was to this point zoned solely commercial. Under the new plan, popularly known as the Red Book, it became three districts: core, frame, and residential. The plan also provided clear guidelines for built forms, the new concept of townscape (consideration for context in the design and construction of new buildings), desired future character, and constructive development conditions. It is unsurpassed as a vision and management plan, and had successive revisions under a five-yearly review cycle that provided planning certainty. The plan was representative of the Dunstan era, when innovation and intellect had its day in the sun, and the benefits of two creative tiers of government working together were apparent well into the 1980s.

In 1984, the Local Government Act was amended, with two unintended consequences for Adelaide that are at the heart of the problems of today – the end of consensus decision-making, and the erosion of the independence of the appointed administration.

The theory for the demise of the elected body touches on anglo-colonial paternalism, and social and race division. It is contended the council’s historical cohesion, pragmatism and effectiveness at engaging with the movers and shakers of community, especially within the confidential confines of the Adelaide Club, was due to the fact it was a totally undemocratic body. Until 1984, a multiple property or business owner was entitled to one vote for each of their city interests: the top end of town effectively put its own into power. The theory also contends that only those people who had need for neither public profile nor personal gain would stand for election or be nominated. It was the rule of the Patricians.

This old-boy network had a set of rules, the most important of which was that the Lord Mayor had only one term before passing the baton to an approved heir-apparent. The logic was that one term was insufficient time for an unexpectedly bad mayor to have serious impact on the reputation and workings of the office, and insufficient time for a mayor to compromise his position through unsavoury allegiances or associations. The quick turnover of mayors made patience a virtue and kept ambitions in check. A number of second-term moves, including by Wendy Chapman in 1985, were snuffed out by this protocol.

These cosy arrangements ended when the Act was amended to introduce a one-person, one-vote system. Council candidates changed from men about town in the widest and highest sense to “resident councillorsâ€