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.  

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.