renewing Adelaide

Most of the  new development in Adelaide's CBD  since the recession caused by the 2007-8 global financial crisis has been apartment towers. All Australia’s state capitals have seen versions of this  phenomenon,  but the pace and scale of change in Adelaide is  much less than it has been in Melbourne's Docklands or in the inner west of Sydney. 

The exception to the apartment boom are the new buildings along the  western side of North Terrace--that is the expansion of the Convention Centre and the new health and biomedical precinct around and down from the Morphett Street Bridge . The latter consists of the new Royal Adelaide Hospital, the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, (SAHMRI), the Health Innovation Building (University of South Australia), and the Adelaide Medical and Nursing Schools (University of Adelaide).  

The CBD has been rapidly changing since we left living in the CBD in 2015. We just saw the start of the redevelopment  prior to leaving to living on the coast. We had a sense of Adelaide being between its  decaying industrial past  with its rust-belt imagery (eg. of Whyalla) and a high tech driven future. The promise was one of revitalisation of a moribund urban life with its underperforming public school system,  chronic public-sector management woes and pockets of intense outer suburban  poverty.   

architectural photography

This is one of the last images that I made with a large format camera before I left living in Sturt St in Adelaide's CBD  to move down to Encounter Bay on the coast on the coast of the southern Fleurieu  Peninsula. The  photo was made early on a  Sunday morning in the late autumn.   Hence the empty streets.  

It is of Wakefield House  in Wakefield Street just east of Victoria Square.  I do not think that it is heritage listed.  Wakefield House  is  a heavy, concrete modernist building that would have had a utopian feel to it when it was first built and celebrated.   This building represents the future.  It stood for  modern,  industrial  Adelaide. Today, my personal impressions is  that the building has a historical almost brutal look.   

There is a long history of architectural photography and this one is a modest architectural photo in a documentary style rather than an atmospheric moment.   It does not strive to be the glossy architectural photo that one sees in the architectural magazines.   It  makes no pretension to be an architectural hero shot, namely the photo that gives a project an identity through being the face of a building.The hero shot  is the image in commercial architectural photography  done for the client that everyone goes ooh aah over. 

more empty streets

I found the empty streets in the CBD disconcerting,  when I was walking around them in the early morning on the weekends.  This was the reality of an industrial society: a stumbling around amongst the nineteenth century architecture didn't result in  me  coming across a diversity of  random people.  I rarely  saw another person.   

There was a sense of melancholy on the streets.   A desire for an urban life that wasn't there.  I was living in an industrial  city that wasn't really a city because of the lack of people. They were all in the suburbs.  It was eerie. The promise was that people would come with the transition to the post-industrial  society.  

where are the people

 Many of my photos  of the street  from the perspective of carparks have little or no people in them. This is not  just by design.

 One of the notable historical aspects of Adelaide is the lack of people walking the streets or gathering  in squares or piazzas. It always felt like a large country town rather than a capital city

This is starting to change as more people are encouraged to start  living  in the CBD  and more international students arrive to study at the universities in the CBD. But  on Sunday morning the people on the streets are few and far between.  

One reason for this lack of people is the lack of piazzas or laneways that are closed to cars. It is proving very difficult to achieve this because it is political. The  political conservatives are opposed to the inner-city living,  and they favour the suburbs and the use of the car as  the  mode of transport.   

The conservatives  see those who want  the inner city to be a more attractive and liveable as Greenies who are  pro bike and anti-car. They favour more investment in freeways and less investment in public transport including light rail in the CBD.  

a congested city

The urban planners know that Adelaide  is kidding itself if it believes the private car can remain as dominant as it is now. Adelaide will keep growing, and all the evidence suggests building roads to reduce congestion is a short-term fix at best – the congestion just keeps coming. 

The urban planning and transport planning professionals worldwide have accepted for many years that the best thing in growing cities is to improve public transport to keep those cities moving. The cities that rely on cars, generally speaking, perform worse economically than those that have public transport.

What is needed  is a tram system connecting to the train station and the bus station in an integrated way. The argument should be about developing a commitment to public transport overall, and it needs to be consistent and integrated not about more freeways for cars to deal with commuter congestion.  The congestion occurs at the points where traffic must leave the freeway and join the existing urban road network and more freeways only increases pressure on these outlets. 

just as in New York, but differently

I have just come across a similar project to this one --Vivienne Gucwa's  New York Through the Lens. It is a Tumblr blog  about New York City photography and writing that explores  the landscapes, architecture and neighborhoods of New York City. It then  became a book that was based on 5 years posting. 

This photography like mine is based on walking the city.  

Gucwa says of her project that:  

Since I live in New York City, I don’t drive. Without much in the way of material things or financial prosperity, walking became my way to deal with stress. It also became a way for me to experience the city like I hadn’t before. I would choose a direction and walk as far as my feet would take me; I still do this. As the scenery unfolded before me, I began noticing lines, forms and structures that I‘d previously ignored...In 2010, I decided to finally post the photos I had accumulated along the way online...Starting out in photography with limited tools enticed me to learn more about light, which in turn, has set me on a lifelong journey attempting to capture something as fleeting and vast as the transient quality of New York City..... 

 Adelaide is not New York. The former is a provincial city whilst the other is a global one. Adelaide, unlike New York, faces a crucial choice: either the comfort of quiet regionalism and relative decline with increasing numbers of its  young people seeking and making opportunities elsewhere or alternatively, the challenge of becoming a cosmopolitan, internationally oriented and competitive city.

the modernist city

It is in the modernist city that the  representations of the city come to the fore in the sense that photography, cinema, print, and advertising  shaped  the way our senses  experience modern life through images. If visuality becomes integral to our knowledge of  and practice in urban society  in the 29th century, then it is  cinema, which  has the  prominent role in inserting visuality in the experience of modern life.

As is well known, these representations of the  new urban experience celebrated the daily life of the street  as the stage for the chaotic energy of the traffic, the swirling maelstrom of the crowd; the clockwork-like rhythm of daily life as thousands of workers and office-goers entered and exited their corporate workspaces at regular hours.

Adelaide, of course,  was a late developer as  a modernist city. Modernist  architecture, in the form of corporate office office blocks,  only started being inserted within  the fabric of  the 19th century mercantile city after 1945 with the emergence of industrialisation. Its street life was minimal and the photographic representations of the experience of  the modernist city are lost and forgotten. Sydney was the modernist epicentre  of Australia. 

a seismic shift

The 20-30  years between photographing around Bowden Brompton and my recent photography of Adelaide's CBD  was marked by  a seismic shift in urban policy and politics.  This was a shift characterised by the disintegration of 1960s/70s liberal urban policy and the emergence of the era of neoliberal revanchism.  

The blighted places like Bowden and the south west and south east  corners of Adelaide, which  were seen to be in need of urban renewal,  were urban neighbourhoods where people lived,  and  where memories accrued  from their everyday life  that had  nothing to do with the stigmatising negative images associated with them.   They were seen as slums--no top areas-- that needed to be cleaned up. 

The liberal era of the post-1960s period was characterised by redistributive policy, affirmative action and antipoverty legislation. The talk was about the city and social justice.  That was effectively killed off by the recession we had to have,  the collapse of the State Bank in 1991, a  period of economic stagnation and ongoing de-industrialization.  

What emerged was the era of neoliberal revanchism characterised by a discourse of revenge against minorities, the working class, feminists, environmental activists, gays and lesbians, and recent immigrants. 

Adelaide: a doughnut city

One way of making sense of Adelaide as a city is in terms of  it being akin to an American  doughnut.  The American donut is a sugary ring with an empty centre and is a fine metaphor for the rich suburbs around a collapsed inner city. The city centre was structured on the segregation of urban areas into retail, industrial and living areas whilst the  suburbs were designed as a refuge from the bustle of city life. 

Since the mid-20th century Adelaide, like other Australian cities,  has been subjected to the "doughnut effect": the city centre becomes "hollow" as population moves from inner suburbs to the outer suburbs in search of newer, larger or more affordable houses. The ‘great Australian dream’ was a large house on a quarter-acre block in the suburbs. Consequently, Adelaide became a low density city.  

People live in the suburbs on the urban fringe and work in the city. Since adequate public transport runs out well before you hit the real 'burbs' people  travel to the city in the car to work, shop and play.  The city centre  is full of car parks,  office buildings, shops  and commuters. 

The conception of the  city as a doughnut overlooks that the hollowed out centre (CBD) was,  and  is,  a place of  mostly white collar work within high rise office buildings. In Adelaide  these  building are mostly in the  bland modernist style: rectangular shapes of concrete and glass.  

The hollowed out centre is mostly noticeable on the weekend: the streets are empty of people. It was devoid of vitality and the city centre had the feel of a urban wasteland or concrete jungle. The corporate model was a soulless landscape of glass, steel, and concrete boxes.

edgelands

I'd always seen the Port River estuary  and the Le  Fevre Peninsula as in-between lands or edge lands. I'd always imagined as existing  on the edge of town: a site earmarked for industrial development that never happened. I'd seen it as the wasteland on the border of a city, derelict land so damaged by the pollution from industrial development that it was incapable of beneficial use without further treatment.

Edgelands are familiar yet ignored spaces which are neither city nor countryside.  They are the half-rural, half urban nothingness,  or raw and rough wasteland ton the fringes of the city and, as  a desolate, forsaken netherworld whose existence goes unacknowledged, they stand in marked contrast to the tamed countryside or farmland. 

Edgelands have traditionally  have been without any signifier, an untranslated, ignored  landscape between the duality of rural and urban landscape.They often  lie on the  border of the suburban fringe and seen as blots on the landscape until they are developed for suburban housing, industry or shopping centres. 

 Edgelands, by and large, are not meant to be seen, except perhaps as a blur from a car window as we hurry towards the countryside  or the coast in search of wilderness and communion with nature; or  as an ignored and  forgotten  backdrop to our most routine and mundane activities.