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.