empty shops

The empty retail shops in the CBD of Adelaide are quite noticeable when  I walk around  the city on my visits from Encounter Bay these days.  I interpret them as one  of the signs of the difficult economic times associated with Adelaide's  slow transition  from being an industrial to a post-industrial city.  This is still a city undergoing de-industrialization,  with a stagnant population,  high poverty and unemployment rates and increased homelessness.  

I accept that I cannot  now photograph the CBD as I used to when I lived in the city and I walked the standard poodles  in the early morning and late afternoon.   As the low key commute  involves an hours drive to Adelaide  from Encounter Bay on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula coast,  so I have to accept whatever light there is  when  I walk and photograph the city during the day. 

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.   

Sixth Street, Bowden

These  Bowden street scenes are a part of Adelaide's working class and urban history. Bowden--- and Brompton--- were once counted among the least desirable suburbs in Adelaide. The expansion of the very industrial and commercial premises which had sustained the working class community in the nineteenth century caused a decline in the close-knit working class  community and  by the 1930s Bowden and Brompton was classified as one of Adelaide’s slums.   

 The  Metropolitan Adelaide Transport Study, released in 1968,  meant that  the Highways Department proceeded to buy properties.  Many houses owned by the Highways Department showed that their standard fell much below the general standard of housing in the area. Even though he North-South Transportation Corridor proposal was finally abandoned in 1983   The  suburbs became  progressively more run down during the 1990s,  the small scale housing  degenerated, and as a consequence of its closeness to Adelaide and manufacturing districts, the suburbs become a centre for storage, commercial or wholesale purposes.      

The closure of the gasworks that dominated Brompton in 2000 and Clipsal Industries' relocation from Bowden in 2009 provided an opportunity for re-development of these suburbs.  Many of the buildings in Bowden have been pulled down as part of the process of urban renewal. The factories, working class cottages and warehouses have been replaced by  parks and houses by what is known as Bowden Village. 

These street scenes, and the people who lived there,  are part of Adelaide's history that is forgotten. Few will remember them.  Few lived here. Little will be protected as heritage, for Bowden signified, for respectable  Adelaide, the negative of  civilised urban living. It was seen as dystopia: a polluted,  industrial place  full of dead  beats, bums and  alcoholics. 

errant wandering after 9/11

The public realm - both as a physical and virtual space - has increasingly and insidiously become a privately owned and managed environment where under watchful and anonymous eyes, the activities and behaviours of the public are both monitored and controlled. Loitering or meandering generates a suspicious glance; the gathering of groups is perceived as a threat; desire lines must be hastily overwritten with pathways that tow the agreed and official line.

Photographers lurking  in the ambiguous shadows and darkened alleyways away from the corporate branding are a special target of security guards and police in the public domain.  They are targeted under wrongful suspicion in relation to the anti-terrorism legislation enacted after 9/11; wrongful suspicion of anti-social behavior when there‘s no legitimate evidence to support the suspicions and accusations that result in the photographer being stopped for being a potential terrorist.

The law and legislation provided to the police are being pushed and misused to the extent that it is creating a hostile environment for public photography. Members of the public and media do not need a permit to photograph in public and that the police and security guards do not have the power to stop them from filming or photographing incidents or police personnel. 

Yet photographers have been stopped without having any reasonable suspicion on the grounds that  taking images  could be constituted as antisocial behavior.Taking a photograph in the public space is  deemed to be  risky and potentially threatening to the authorities.

The resurgence of interest in the act of walking or 'wandering', within contemporary artistic practices,  with their  roots in the Surrealist errance and Situationist derive,   can be viewed as a critical tool or conduct  through which to challenge or subvert the logic of the various surveillance systems.

drifting in the city

Though I spend a lot of time exploring the urban skyline from car park roofs,  I also wander the city streets as a  photographic  flâneur in the tradition of the Situationists.

This tradition makes no appearance in the texts on Australian photography---eg., Anne Marsh's  Look: Contemporary Australian Photography since 1980 (2010)--despite the Situationists being   in the modernist  tradition of avant-garde agitation to which movements like Dada  and Surrealists belonged.

The Situationists have been written out of Australian photographic writings, even though the photographic practice of  many Australian photographers is one of  exploring the nooks and crannies of the city in unpredictable ways.They are modern day flâneurs.

The Situationist's  concept of the dérive---an unplanned walk or drift, was defined as the 'technique of locomotion without a goal'.  To dérive was to notice the way in which certain areas, streets, or buildings resonate with states of mind, inclinations, and desires, and to seek out reasons for movement other than those for which the urban  environment was designed.

Sadie Plant in her  The most radical gesture: The Situationist International in a postmodern age says that the Situationists held that:

If modern society is a spectacle, modern individuals are spectators: observers seduced by the glamorous representations of their own lives, bound up in the mediations of images, signs, and commodities, and intolerably constrained by the necessity of living solely in relation to spectacular categories and alienated relations.

The aim is to negate the seductive glamour of the spectacle through  gaining an immediate experience of the world, and transforming the everyday into a reality desired and created by those who live in it. 

If  the avant-garde had failed to deliver the transformation of everyday reality it promised, then so had the modernist city planners. Sherman Young in Morphings and Ur-Forms: From Flâneur to Driveur in Scan (2005)  argues  that the romantic figure of the flâneur in nineteenth century Paris is arguably impossible in Australia's  automobile city,  and  it has instead morphed into digital-camera toting tourist-flâneurs. Australia's cities--eg., Sydney--are metropolises of drivers, or  driveurs. 

Their city is a cacophony of road rage, billboards advertising escape, talkback radio and traffic reports;  a city represented by traffic jams, bus lanes and fellow drivers.  It is a world of tollways and tailbacks, traffic lights and street signs. 

Urban Life

In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, first published in 1961, Anne Jacobs argued  for the virtues of close-knit, inner-city life, developed organically and built over time in opposition to  the modernist  kind of postwar planning  of the mid-century city planners. These favoured free way building, exemplified  best  by Robert Moses  who wanted to run a 10-lane elevated highway through the middle of Washington Square Park.  

The modernist planners  assumed that they knew best, and saw the wholesale remaking of the urban landscape and along with it the displacement of entire communities as essential in creating the  modernist city of the future. This form of  planning theory blamed high density for crime, filth, and a host of other problems.

 Jacobs disproved these assumptions and demonstrated how a high concentration of people is vital for city life, economic growth, and prosperity. Jacobs argued that modernist urban planning rejected the city, because it rejects human beings living in a community characterized by layered complexity and seeming chaos. Jacobs advocated for “mixed-use” urban development – the integration of different building types and uses, whether residential or commercial, old or new. According to this idea, cities depend on a diversity of buildings, residences, businesses and other non-residential uses, as well as people of different ages using areas at different times of day, to create community vitality. 

Opposing expressways and supporting neighborhoods were common themes in  Australian cities in the 1960s. In Adelaide this took the form of The Metropolitan Adelaide Transport Study or the MATS Plan which was deeply opposed.  In opposition to the vision  of a cookie-cutter corporate city of glass-box office towers, high-rise apartments, and limited-access highways some of those who opposed the MATS Plan  wanted Adelaide to develop as a more European type city with high density housing and a stronger emphasis on public transport.

Those who advocated the latter  held the view that  a mixed-use, densely populated but still human-scale city  was  best fostered not by suburban plots or indeed by towering residential high-rises but by something in between, by a mix of four- or six- or nine-storey buildings in which people live and work and go back and forth “on different schedules” and for “different purposes.” 

What has happened since the 1970s is that urban neighbourhoods  have gone  from being edgy and gritty working class  to trendy and chic-- the process of middle-class gentrification. What has emerged is what Richard Florida terms the ‘creative class’: the trendy little shops of entrepreneurial designers, nouvelle cuisine restaurants and cappuccino bars, microbreweries, galleries, and the like. 

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.