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.

The  large population concentrations around the periphery of cities saw  the  suburbs began to take on the properties of urban areas,  thus eliminating the need to travel back into the city center.  Car ownership gave rise to  the formation of the Edge City  by the town planners and urban designers. 

I lived in a working class cottage in  the residential area of the inner city whilst I was doing my doctorate at Flinders University, which was located  in the southern suburbs. I had a standard poodle and we used to walk the city. We avoided Rundle Mall,  the retail shopping precinct, which was seen to be the  heart of Adelaide's CBD. This model of the city experience was  one of eating and shopping. 

Urban life was  painted  in terms of the  suburbs versus the city yet  there was little conception of  the urban lifestyle based on living in the city. I found the rest of  the CBD  outside the retail shopping precinct  to be  bleak,  depressing and uninviting.  Instead of the rich density of urban life celebrated by Jane Jacobs my experience of urban existence  was one of provincial monotony, sterility, and vulgarity.  

Quality of life and a sense of community were deemed irrelevant.  That was what the suburbs represented. The city was a machine  for working and shopping to paraphrase  Le Corbusier. The  modernism of the mid-20th century urban  planners appeared to be structured on a hostility to the messy urban street.  It was a slum to be cleared to make way for the new. 

2 responses
Is this a cut and paste job? Save the melodrama for actual urban decay like Detroit. Do the homeless walk the streets of Adelaide at night like zombies? What of the huge boom of residents in the CBD? The exact opposite of what you profess is actually happening.
Theo, the policy of increasing the number of residents in the CBD a response by the state government and Adelaide City Council to Adelaide's history of being a doughnut city.