A smart city

Adelaide is not a smart  or hip city, even though it desperately wants to be, given the emergence of the National Broadband Network. The high speed fibre broadband technology  would allow  a rustbelt Adelaide  to reinvent itself as a hub for high tech and advanced manufacturing. The City of Chattanooga in the US  is a model of what could be.

Adelaide  struggles to reshape its old  doughnut structure,  to embrace experimental urban design, become  more people friendly or even make itself more sustainable. But it just doesn’t have the vibe. Melbourne has it. Adelaide has the appearance of a backwater.

Despite its extensive free Wi-Fi coverage and being home to three  public universities,  Adelaide is stuck in a stasis between what it once was—a rustbelt city—  and what it could be—-a smart European style city. There is a  desire to have  cosmopolitan lifestyle with an inner city full of young creative professionals and a white-hot arts/design scene; but it cannot deliver. 

The rustbelt is manifest in  the region of the  northern suburbs of Adelaide.I t is similar to the postwar industrial cities like Newcastle, Wollongong, Geelong and Whyalla and the traditional industrial parts of our cities such as within the central and south-western sub-regions of Sydney, the central-west and northern suburbs of Melbourne.  

These areas have the highest concentrations of workers displaced by job loss in australia’s manufacturing industry; and while unemployment rates have improved in these areas over the last decade, higher than average numbers of disability support pension recipients and lower than average employment ratios across all age groups, male and female. Compounding the problem of the old industrial regions has been the migration of welfare dependent families into these regions, chiefly in search of cheap housing. 

Adelaide talks about the revitalization  of the doughnut centre a lot with its extensive thinkers-in-residence programme. These experts come up with lots of wonderful and interesting ideas to make Adelaide a more exciting and vibrant place,  and these place-based ideas are then  widely discussed through various  community forums. Nothing happens. Another thinker-in-residence arrives, studies the place,  comes  up with more great ideas, and then shares them in public forums. Nothing much happens after the talking.

The cycle repeats itself. 

An optimistic interpretation of the stasis is that it feels like two steps forward, one and half steps backwards. All the energy and money appears to go into subsidizing Rundle Mall—the departmental shopping precinct. This emphasis on commercial  boosterism results in a “with us or against us” mentality; a knee jerk defensiveness in which  the critics of boosterism are dismissed as anti-development and the critics outside the state (eg., in Melbourne) are deemed to be misinformed and pushing an agenda.

So we have a rigid defensiveness  of the status quo.  Stasis. 

High Rise

Australian capital cities are going high rise in their CBD areas as part of the shift back to the city from the suburbs. Melbourne, especially the Docklands,  comes to mind. 

In his 1975 novel  High-Rise the English novelist  J. G. Ballard suggested that the nature of the modernist high rise  buildings produces a “new social type.”  

 His argument is that high-rise flats incite maniacal aggression and perversion in ordinary people. High-Rise is about a 40-storey apartment block, and how from innocent beginnings it reduces people to murder, incest and above all a passionate love for chaos.

Geoff  Manaugh, a writer and essayist who runs the BLDG blog,   argues  that Ballard’s sarcastic over reaction to the modernist high rise urban development is iilluminating. He says:

Ballard…realised — and articulated, in brilliant ways — what constructing huge high-rise apartment blocks, surrounded by empty parkland, would actually accomplish: domestic violence, race-based social segregation, and utterly pointless rivalries between makeshift gangs over everyday services.

The idea that buildings are innocent shells that can do no harm to anyone is a total intellectual failure.

While tower blocks in reality were mostly associated with social housing, often provided to the very poor, the High-Rise tower is a private development populated by the wealthy middle class  probably comes closest to matching Ballard’s creation in real life. Despite its glossy, hopeful origins, things go rapidly wrong in the high-rise.

To overcome the isolation and boredom of tower block life, residents form clans amongst their neighbours and the block divides itself into three ‘classes’ – upper, middle and lower – based not on income but on how high or low people are within the building.The groups battle for control of the shared facilities, raiding rival floors.

As facilities like the elevators, rubbish chutes and electricity begin to fail, people leave their jobs, give up washing and shaving and are reduced to eating pet food and then their pets themselves. Indiscriminate, violent sex and eventually murder spread through the building as people indulge their every random instinct. Eventually the residents enter a kind of primal state where they begin to forget their own and each other’s original identities and in some cases even lose the use of language.

What makes High-Rise stand out is the way this outbreak of seemingly regressive energies is directly made possible by the modern developments that were supposed to improve society: utopia flips into dystopia. 

Living in cities

Despite the mythic outback imagery that Australia has vigorously exported and exploited Australia is a suburban nation. It became a suburban nation during the long boom that ended in the 1970s with the  suburbs  built around the car.   In our  contemporary era of globalisation and rapid social and economic change most of us in Australia live in cities, which are increasingly being shaped by a  neo-liberal market economy.  

Australian cities are characterised by (sub)urban sprawl with doughnut centres,  with the outer edge of the "doughnut"  as uninviting, in its own way, as the "hollow centre". Sea change means no change in urban living as it is really more suburbia, only in new places, such as Victor Harbor. 

 It is only gradually being accepted that the inner city can be a place where people could happily live as well as work, if the conditions are right. If you get it right you can live in the city and have the advantages of a city lifestyle without cutting yourself off from the outdoors--the green spaces such as parks, gardens and playing facilities.  

The problem is that the conditions need to be made right if cites could be places of community as well economic spaces. With good urban design Adelaide could limit the spread of urban sprawl and  become a European-style,  people-orientated city. It could transform itself into  a more sustainable city. 

With de-industrialization, or the decline in manufacturing since the 1970s, we’ve realised that our economy is increasingly a services economy,  and that much of the strong growth  of Australia’s economy is being driven by the increasingly important roles of the big cities as the dominant places of population growth and the creation of new jobs, particularly in the information and knowledge sectors.  

If much of the economic activity in the country takes place in the cities – particularly in the services sector, then  how our cities work is really important to the economy. Most of our cities have got suburban rail networks – rail networks that are designed to take people from the outer suburbs to the inner-city, whether it’s for work or for leisure.

Unless we have urban rail networks (ie., trains and trams)  as well as surburban rail networks, the inner-cities won’t work properly,  and they’ll be a lot less pleasant places to live and work. Unless the rail networks are appropriate the cities just won’t work for communities or the economy. 

Unless we think of the rail issues, as well as the road issues, congestion, particularly in the inner-city, becomes a huge problem. In-spite of the inner city revival and the  emergence of  the cafe society out of the doughnut centre,  the inner city  then becomes an unpleasant place to live in.   Community is sacrificed to the economy.

Unfortunately, though  plans for new suburbs talk of denser development around mass transit corridors, most developers still build big houses at low density. And politicians still extol the 'right to drive' as a cherished Australian value.  


Fortress Australia

(Non-white) asylum seekers arriving by boat from war torn countries (eg., Afghanistan) are meet with hostility by conservative Australians in Adelaide and elsewhere.  They want the boats turned back (“Stop the boats!” is the rhetoric),  or the asylum seekers  locked up in offshore mandatory detention, or forcibly returned to the country of origin.  In contrast, asylum seekers arriving by plane are readily accepted. 

The populist conservative's basically deny that the global movement of people and aslyum seekers is a humanitiarian one, which in Australia's case is   in part caused by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan  that Australia has been, and is, involved in. The conservative's idea of Australia is that of Fortress Australia and One Nation, and they talk in terms of Australia opening a sea lane  for asylum seekers or building a bridge to Indonesia.  

Theirs is the politics of fear that exploits the insularity of Australians and the lack of  an informed historical perspective in our public discourse and it is one that makes national sovereignty an absolute. In John Howard’s words “We have the right to decide who comes to this country, and the circumstances in which they come.”He implied that his government was in control of events and that Australians were entitled to feel relaxed and comfortable. 

The  tabloid media are engaged in a campaign that reduces asylum seekers to invaders about to flood working class suburbs, take their jobs,  and form ghettos of ethnic difference.   The tabloid media exploit feelings of fear and insecurity to scapegoat foreigners, to try to force the adoption of restrictive policies and they  hold that Australia should abandon the 1951 Refugee Convention. 

This populist conservatism  is a long way from, and a deep reaction to,  the  social liberalism of 1970's Adelaide: that  of Don Dunstan, social democracy and extravagent  pink shorts. The Dunstan Decade put Adelaide on the map in terms of political reform and the quality of urban life and it ruptured  Adelaide as  a dreary, conservative and genteel cultural backwater with  rigid sexual and dress  codes. 

What populist conservatism  does not accept is that asylum seekers are not terrorists, a threat to national security,  to suburban lifestyles or national identity.  The majority of asylum seekers  are refugees trying to flee persecution in Country A by knocking on the door of country B, and they are entitled to seek asylum under international law. Instead of locking them up in mandatory detention  and punishing them, they should be able to live in the local community whilst their asylum claims are being assessed.  

an old armchair

 Adelaide's inner city area is slowly being turned around from a long period of population decline as people left for the suburbs to  modest  levels of growth, albeit often from a small base.  High rise apartments and townhouses are replacing the old industrial sites and the  empty lots. The CBD is being filled in, or more accurately, it is undergoing redevelopment and renewal.  

There are still a lot of grungy areas around the CBD of Adelaide if you look closely.  You don't need to explore the decayed and grimey back alleyways  to see them, as many of the grungy areas are empty lots or holes in the ground,  waiting to be developed. Many of these have been there for a long time, ever since the boom in office buildings came to a crashing halt.  

These empty  lots  in the CBD were starting to be re-developed as inner city apartments,  then the global financial crisis happened in 2008,  and everything just ground to a halt.  We are learning to  live with  the booms and busts in the global economy, and we realize that it is going to be a rough ride and a tough experience. We know that the  policy discourse of the two speed economy means that  there will be winners and losers,  and we fear that those of us living in Adelaide  will be amongst the losers despite a booming China's  demand for Australia's iron ore. 

Adelaide  continues to lag badly economically. It is still suffering from the abrupt  ending of  the  post 1945 boom  in industrial capitalism boom in the 1980s.  Paul Kelly in his The End of Certainity  argued that the 1980s  shift to deregulation and the free market by the Hawke/Keating Labor government effectively dismantled the pillars of the Australian settlement that had been put in place at the time of federation in 1901.

These pillars were: White Australia, industry protection, wage arbitration, state paternalism and imperial benevolence. The habits, the structures of feeling such as the sense of entitlement and the assumed  expectations of government protection  of that disappearing world  are being pulverized by the global economy. The structural adjustments imposed by the economic forces of globalization are giving rise to a deep anger, and an in-your-face style of politics.

This anger and hostility has coalesced around a populist conservatism that dosen't want to change anything, desires to be relaxed and comfortable, expects the national government to be in control of events, and instinctively opposes those reforms that will help make Australia more sustainable through ecological modernization. The consequences are an ever deepening polarization in the body politic.

 The rise in the prosperity and redevelopment of the inner city area in Adelaide, and the other capital cities in Australia,  is associated with the economic restructuring to a service economy  that has seen the concentration of the tertiary educated workers in professional and managerial occupations in the central city. Though Adelaide is dismissed as a cultural backwater whose bright young university people keep leaving for Sydney and Melbourne, the inner city professionals also include artists and their culture  values creativity, individuality, difference and merit. 

The so called creative class are often referred to in the tabloid media as the cosmopolitan  ‘Latte Set’  who are held to be out of touch with the aspirational, honest and partriotic values of hard-working Australian families living in the suburbs of the capital cities and the regional cities.  The assumption in this conception of urban development is the continuing strength of consumer preference for lower density suburban development, for the use of the private car, and for investment in providing freeways, arterial road systems, and river crossings and tunnels.

It is a case for suburbanisation and against urban consolidation. It basically means more suburban sprawl on the fringes of the city with its low residential densities, increased  car dependency, isolation from services, separation of home and work and  people traveling long distances from home to work in peak hour traffic. Many of the outer suburbs are working class enclaves with 50 per cent or more of their workforce in the traditional industrial occupations.4

 As the Urban 45 document highlights these different conceptions of the city raise questions about what kind of city do we want to live and work in. The problem that Adelaide faces is both to place limits around its suburban sprawl and to attract and retain creative people so that the inner city can prosper. 


Adelaide is a grungy, grotty  city with its structure of feeling  of despair, depression, anger, alienation and a contempt of authority. This structure of feeling is associated with the decay of the centrality of the industrial citizen. This grunge structure of feeling incorporates a sense of the vacuity of a boring  existence whose void is filled with  sex, drugs, violence and alcohol. 

Adelaide still is a rustbucket city with the  sense of expectations and entitlements of the industrial citizen and welfare democracy.  It hasn't recovered from the decline of low tech manufacturing (Fordism) in the 1980s, the collapse of the State Bank of South Australia in 1991, the  subsequent debt of the South Australian state government from having to bail out the bank's bad debts. The Australian economy was  shifting from a manufacturing-based economy to services one, and this structural shift was  happening inside cities.

 Adelaide  was bypassed by the post-Fordist global cultural circuit of capital after Australia's economy was deregulated and opened up to the global one. There was little sense of a new future in the emerging services  economy for many whose life is structured on unemployment, low skills  and a poor  public education.

 In the new deregulated financial environment of the 1980s during the Labor decade, with its neo-liberal turn to privatisation, deregulation, and free markets, winding back the welfare state and opening Australia up by removing exchange rate controls.   South Australia missed out on the action  because all the significant financial institutions were based in Melbourne and Sydney,  and they had no interest in South Australia.  What emerged in the provincial bank in the 1980s was a new deal making culture as the bank attempted to develop a presence in interstate and overseas global markets.

Under a neo-liberal mode of governance deregulated  finance capital was going to replace manufacturing as the new driver of economic growth. This free market economics went belly up in South Australia, but the political rationality of neo-liberalism remained. The emphasis was on shaping and influencing the behaviour of citizens, encouraging new forms of self-managing and self-regulating behaviour of individuals, and relying on the disciplinary power of the market to influence citizen behaviour.  

The subject in  grunge culture  stands in contrast, or opposition,  to the healthy, flexible,  productive, open entrepreneurial subjects of neo-liberal rationalities and and techniques of governmental and ethical self-formation. The bodies of  an unemployed  grunge subject outside the world of white male waged worker are wasted, ill, unemployed,  abject, diseased, debased and sensory deranged.  

 A decade and half latter  Adelaide is now trying to reinvent itself as an education, university  or knowledge city, as it tries to link into the global economy and a global culture by seeking to position itself for a stronger role in knowledge-based economies. The dead weight of tradition of old Australia, from the industrial era of protection, tariffs, national building and greater regulation, hangs over this carcity like a dark cloud; and it's conservative current resists change to a knowledge economy. Adelaide is comatose, in an intensive care ward. 

There was grunge  in music (Nirvana) and grunge in Australian literature ( eg., Andrew McGahan's Praise and Christos Tsiolkas' Loaded), but not necessarily grunge in  the visual arts, apart from a stylistic trend  in Sydney in the 1990s.  Grunge, however, can be found as a  visual style in web design-- where its crude, radical and provoking; a dirty look with irregular, nasty, sometimes even ugly and crooked visual elements.  

More relevantly to Adelaide, a grunge visual culture is expressed from within  the underground  graffiti culture and post graffiti  street art, whose practitioners move through the urban and suburban areas of the city at night. Theirs is a space of abjection that is situated outside the culture  of the deregulated market and is subject to punitive action action because it is defined as a crime against property.

This low culture, with its gesture to the carnivalesque,  opens up the possibility for breaking out of the constraints of a law governed symbolic order to create an art that violates conventional rules and dislodges  normal social meanings from their original and habitual contexts.

This dissent was one way of recovering a sense of being in control of events in a society that was rapidly changing due to the effects of globalization and the shortcomings of the deregulated market.    

O'Halloran Street

O'Halloran Street

This yellow building has since been painted over in battleship gray  and it now looks very drab. A lot of Adelaide's pre-modernist  commercial and domestic architecture is drab and ugly and in various states of decay.

These functional warehouse buildings are left over from the old industrial economy that was based on manufactured goods,  and they have yet to be converted  for use in the new informational economy and  its  service  industries. 

The above picture indicates that the only space for people is the footpath as most of the space between the buildings is given over to the road and to the car. There are few attempts to create a piazza for people in Adelaide.  It is not a European city, though it could become one. 

Although Adelaide is a very walkable city, it is not a people friendly one.  The Adelaide City Council's longterm plan is to encourage more people to live in the city and to make it their home,  yet Adelaide is still  an automobile slum, with an urbanscape dominated by carparks, cars, fumes, car noise and roads. Little attempt is being made to roll back the car from the CBD. The local traders oppose any move to roll back the car. It is bad for business. 

This urban design that has modified the grid  system of  the city of Adelaide  for the car now shapes how we live in the city. Though there  is increased demand for inner city living and a preference for urban (as opposed to suburban) lifestyles there is little conversion of offices and warehouses for residential use taking place.

There is little in the way of inner city development that converts the alleyways in the CBD  into  bars enhancing the opportunities for venues serving the arts and live music scene, supporting the  wine industry and generally making the  city and high streets stay awake past 5PM.

living in the Adelaide parklands

One of the central aspects of Adelaide for me is the Adelaide parklands that surround, and stand in contrast to, the grid of the CBD on all  its sides.  Though we live in a townhouse in the lawyer precinct of the CBD near the Central Market,  we are just two blocks away from the southern parklands that contain Veale Gardens (Walyo Yerta).

We  frequent them  daily because  it is where we habitually  walk our standard poodles in the morning and the evening. I don't know much of the history of the parklands but from lived experience  we have a good sense of the environmental health  and  the life--animal and human-- of the parklands from its  multiple use. 

Most of those parklands have been retained over the last 170 years, whereas most other cities have suffered significantly greater alienation of their parklands over the same period.  At long last the south western corner, which  had been  a barren wasteland with a few trees is being extensively replanted. It---Minno Wirra--- is beginning to  become an urban forest.

The parklands are a site of resistance as there is  strong and widespread  public support against various attempts to encroach on them-- alienate the land---and to develop them.  South Australians see them as fundamental to the character and ambience of the city.

The temporary  or transient aboriginal camps remind you that Adelaide, as a post colonial settler society,  is built on the land of the displaced Kaurna people and is haunted by the dead, both black and white. 

The different sections of the parkland have recently  been given their original aboriginal names  by the Adelaide City Council as part of the reconicliation process. The area continues to be a contemporary meeting place for some Aboriginal people.

Introduction: my Adelaide

I decided to start a book on Adelaide, my hometown,  because I  had became tired of just taking lots of photos and posting them to Flickr,  to  Rhizomes1, my photoblog, or to Facebook.  I needed to shift from being an enthusiast taking snap shots  to working on a project that required some thinking about what I was doing. I thought, why not produce a DIY Blurb book?  

How would I organize the material?  I though that the Posterous  micro-publishing software could help me produce a draft of the book---postcards from, or impressions of,  Adelaide, rather than a history of the city?

So I began to start selecting the pictures that I'd been taking in and around the city of Adelaide over the last couple of years into a computer file;  and then started posting them into a Posterous blog. This process, I reasoned,  would then force me to start to think about, research, and  write some text to go  with the photos.

From this process would  a rough draft  or text would emerge and I would have have abody of body that could be worked on, and shaped,  into a book.  I could  to think of the DIY book as a book, as opposed to a portfolio of photographs, or a series of blog posts.  

The basic idea  of the book is that it is a  personal interpretation --my Adelaide,  as it were. This is the Adelaide that emerges out of  my urban exploration as a photographer walking its grid-like streets. The body is important here as I walk the streets, since it is the body that initially responds to the architecture, public mood,  urban light and the  flow of the street.

This approach has affinities to the New South Books series on Australian capital cities in which well-known writers reflect on their home town. So far we have  Peter Timms’s Hobart, Matthew Condon’s Brisbane, Delia Falconer’s Sydney,  Sophie Cunningam’s Melbourne and  Kerryn  Goldsworthy’s Adelaide. Books on Perth, Darwin and Canberra will follow in 2012. 

I haven't read any of these texts so I don't know how they've critically reflected on their hometowns. The exception is Goldsworthy’s Adelaide, which  rummages through the personal past of  her  lived life in  Adelaide.  This  review  of the text in the mainstream press doesn't really come to grips with what this book is doing. 

Stephanie Hester says that Goldsworthy's Adelaide is along the lines of: 

a palimpsest, or  a layering of sense memory , mood a layering of sense-memory, mood-memory, and the vivid recollection of images, emotions and events ... a text  in which  layers of history and myth and memory have been placed upon each other to form the most illustrative of “maps”. 

It is a literary vision of bodily memories  from which Goldsworthy constructs a complex map of narratives and sensibilities that lie beneath the simple geometry of Adelaide's urban grid; or the self-image of Adelaide as a  comfortable, small  provincal town with a friendly-at-home atmosphere. 

My Adelaide has its roots in Bowden, an old industrial suburb,  where I lived in an old working class cottage (now demolished)  when I first came to Adelaide from Melbourne. I converted the shed into a darkroom and I started taking photos in and around the area.

That  working class Bowden has gone.

My Adelaide also has its roots in Port Adelaide. I used to go down there with Fichte, my standard poodle, the Kombi and a large format camera. I was attracted by the wastelands on the edge of the city: 

Bodily memories, and the embodied knowledge emerging from my photowalks,   also provides a link to William Klein's photographic books about cities – New York, Rome, Moscow and Tokyo. These were filled with raw, grainy, black-and-white photographs that caught the energy and movement of modern urban life with scant regard for traditional composition.

The New York book---Life is Good & Good For You in New York: Trance Witness Revels.  (1956) is a  kind of impressionistic diary of Klein's wanderings on the streets of a squalid New York,  and  it is widely recognized in photographic culture for its  iconoclastic graphic design.