Adelaide – South Australia’s seat of government and commercial centre – is one of the most liveable cities in the world. The Economic Intelligence Unit ranked it the world’s top 10, and the Property Council of Australia undertook a survey that declared it to be the most liveable city in Australia.
Behind those honours is Adelaide’s approach to strategic planning, which has been lauded for focusing on lifestyle. This has resulted in a city that is very affordable, and also very accessible – as a bonus, they also have an exceptionally welcoming climate. “What we are is a high quality, niche city focusing on innovation and creativity,” says Lord Mayor Stephen Yarwood.
Adelaide is not a city that is content to rest on its laurels, however. As a city and as a corporation, it is all about continuous improvement. In this aim, Yarwood and the Adelaide City Council have embarked on an exciting new strategic plan, and solicited feedback from the community to do it.
Picture Adelaide was a project designed to engage the people of Adelaide in planning for the city. First, it asked what residents loved about the city and what ideas they had for improving it, allowing users to even put a pin on a digital map to identify the locations for their ideas. Second, it asked for feedback on the city’s strategic plan.
“We’ve had a really solid push to use innovate approaches to community engagement,” says Yarwood, who was himself elected partly on the basis of a strong social media campaign.
“Certainly both the CEO and I are driving an innovative culture throughout the organisation by empowering staff to come up with good ideas,” he explains. “Picture Adelaide was a really good community engagement tool that actually won us a South Australian marketing award.”
Overall, the program achieved over 3000 submissions from citizens on the strategic plan. “That may not sound like many, but for local government that’s actually an excellent outcome, especially for our first attempt at active online engagement,” Yarwood says. Over half the submissions were even from people under the age of 40 – people who, historically, are rarely engaged in local government.
Many of the suggestions were related to dealing with car dependency, which pleased Yarwood. “They were about moving towards high quality pedestrian environments, cycling infrastructure, improving public transport, et cetera,” he explains.
“That was pleasantly surprising. It’s good to know the community is starting to engage in transport issues, which we frankly need to address. We need to tackle issues of lost economic productivity from sitting in traffic jams.” The federal government has estimated that Australia will lose $30 billion worth of economic productivity due to car congestion, and Yarwood wants Adelaide to be proactive in addressing that.
Pictureadelaide.com.au will continue to be used as a social media outlet for the council, as well as for Mayor Yarwood himself.
Great streets, Great City
It is an exciting time in Adelaide’s history. The aforementioned strategy, formed in partnership with their residents, is not short on big plans or big ideas. “It’s certainly an ambitious strategic plan, and it includes more capital works than any other time in the history of the city,” Yarwood says.
As part of the plan, Adelaide will be redeveloping their primary retail strip, as well as offering stimulus money to encourage retail owners to upgrade their buildings and refit out their shops. They’ve also embarked on some exciting major initiatives, such as a proposal for a Stage One redevelopment of Victoria Square, which is something Adelaide City Councils have been considering for decades.
Another major exciting initiative – one that Yarwood says is cutting edge in Australia – is their Splash Adelaide project. That’s a city vibrancy program jointly funded by the Adelaide City Council and the state government, and is designed to bring the city’s streets and spaces alive in a series of pilot experiments. These experiments include extending outdoor dining areas, encouraging food carts in new locations, and finding new ways to experience the streets including deck chairs, table tennis tables, outdoor cinemas, markets and more.
“We’re trying to make the city a place where people want to spend more time, rather than make it a drive-in, drive-out experience,” Yarwood explains. “We really try to work with businesses to build main streets to be highly attractive destinations. Great streets make great cities.”
Splash Adelaide is not the only collaboration between the city and South Australia. “We actually now have the best working relationship between the city of Adelaide and the state government that has existed over the last 20 or 30 years,” Yarwood says. One of the focuses of the new state Premier is having a vibrant Adelaide. This means the South Australian government has invested significantly in the CBD of Adelaide.
One of those significant investments is a brand new stadium. Another is a sizable expansion of their convention centre, worth roughly $300 million. That expansion will not make it the largest of its kind in Australia, but it will be situated on the picturesque River Torrens, making it arguably the most attractive.
Yet another state investment is a brand new world-class medical research centre, as well as a hospital development right next door. That project will be worth approximately $1.5 billion, and is the biggest development of its kind in South Australian history – perhaps even Australian history.
“Between both the state government and Council, it’s by far the most substantial investment in the CBD of Adelaide that has ever happened,” Yarwood says. “It’s an exciting time.”
Environmentally, Yarwood says sustainable development is critical to Adelaide if they want to be future-proof and globally competitive. For this reason, Adelaide City Council carefully monitors the city’s carbon output.
“Our carbon emissions as a community – not just as a corporation – have actually gone down in our CBD by seven per cent over the last four years, primarily because South Australia has had an increase in installed wind capacity over the period,” Yarwood says. “In fact, if South Australia was a country, we’d be second only to Denmark in terms of wind energy.” The CBD of Adelaide also has a substantial amount of solar panels, owned by both private enterprise and the city itself.
As a corporation, Adelaide has reduced its carbon emissions by over 60 per cent and aims to be carbon neutral by 2020. They are also leading the way with a solar powered electric community bus. The Lord Mayor even drives his own solar powered electric car.
“I also ride my bicycle to work when I can,” says Yarwood, who is well known as a Mayor for pushing very hard on cycling infrastructure. “I believe we’ll be the cycling city of the southern hemisphere over the next 20 years,” he says.
Adelaide is home to the biggest parklands of any city in Australia – parklands that are irrigated from recycled water accessed from the Glenelg Adelaide Pipeline Recycled water scheme.
“There is actually a huge amount happening in that space,” Yarwood says. As a council, they do not view those initiatives from a sustainability perspective. They look at it from a lifestyle point of view. “We’re trying to develop a consciousness of a lifestyle that is more vibrant and attractive than inner city living that just happens to be sustainable as well.”
Culture and Vibrancy
In the long term, Yarwood describes his vision of Adelaide as a niche, high quality city with an arts and technology culture. “I feel exceptionally confident that we have the potential to be the world’s most liveable city,” he says. Getting there will mean increased residential development in their CBD, an expansion of their skyline, and an “explosion of culture and vibrancy.”
The South Australian government is known for having excellent strategic planning systems. Those systems – coupled with Adelaide’s constructive working relationship with the state and the infrastructure redevelopment already underway – make Yarwood confident in the city’s longevity. “South Australia and the city of Adelaide’s futures are looking very bright,” he concludes. “We’ll be able to lead the way in terms of building high quality, liveable and sustainable communities.”