Urban Planning

The pattern of city streets, parks and country roads, laid out by Colonel Light in 1837, provided the framework for urban growth on the Adelaide Plains for the next century. Speculators and subdividers played their games of profit and loss, and thousands of home owners were able to realise their suburban dreams unhampered by government regulations or town planners' visions.

A decision in 1870 to place all waterworks in the hands of government instrumentalities rather than municipal corporations had far-reaching effects on the future planning of public utilities. In 1878, when the urban population was approaching 80,000 and the existing methods of disposing of night soil and effluent into the parklands and River Torrens had become an unacceptable health menace, the bold decision was taken to connect all the urban area to an extensive sewage farm at Islington. The City of Adelaide was completely sewered by 1883, and by 1901 two in every three houses throughout the urban area had been connected. In 1888 all sanitation was made the responsibility of the government Sanitary Engineer. Eventually, both water and sanitation became the responsibilities of the Engineering and Water Supply Department. No other Australian capital city achieved such a complete reticulation of water and sewage as early as Adelaide.

Between 1910 and 1930, town planning ideas which had been developed in Europe and North America gained some popularity in Australia. There were many advocates for town planning as a way to replace the waste of uncontrolled development, to co-ordinate the efforts of the organisations providing public utilities, and to design attractive living environments.

One such crusader, Charles Reade, a New Zealand journalist with experience in the British garden cities movement, became the town planning advisory to the South Australian Government in 1916. Reade prepared a Town Planning and Housing Bill in 1916 which embraced concepts for integrated development and housing which were as advanced as anywhere in the world at the time. The Bill did not become law. However, in 1920 Parliament passed the first Town Planning Development Act for any Australian State. It was much more limited in scope than the 1916 Bill. The Act gave the Town Planner wide latitude to advise the government but limited the statutory powers to planning new government towns and controlling private land subdivision.

Reade outlined 'preliminary tentative ideas' for Adelaide and the suburbs including an outer belt of parklands, a linear park along the River Torrens, a new factory area near Port Adelaide, a new satellite town at Henley Beach and provision for garden suburbs beyond the outer parklands. The most famous of Reade's ideas was the Mitcham Garden suburb, later renamed Colonel Light Gardens. Its curved leafy streets, unmarred by poles and wires, and its parks and integrated community centre make it the epitome of what Reade's ideal garden suburb aimed to achieve.

Reade left for a post in Malaya and was succeeded by William Earl in 1921 and Walter Scott Griffiths in 1922. They designed a number of suburbs for private clients, including Linden Gardens and Clearview, and thereby set good examples for the 1920s subdivision boom. They also prepared plans for the mining settlement at Iron Knob and for country towns in the new farming districts, including Thevenard and Barmera. These differed from earlier government towns in South Australia by their replacement of the traditional parkland ring with smaller parks within the town. Streets in these new towns were often curved, rather than gridded, and distinct areas were set aside for specific uses.

In 1929, urban planning went into eclipse for three decades when the powers of the government Town Planner were curtailed to just the mere approval of subdivision plans.

The immigration and industrial boom following the Second World War brought a resurgence of government intervention in the process of urban growth. Initially this was expressed through the activities of the Housing Trust which had been established by Parliament in 1936 as a statutory authority whose primary role was to provide low-cost rental housing and thereby assist in industrial development. The Trust became, in essence, the government's instrument for urban design, housing construction and industrial location long before the approval of the formal metropolitan development plan and its accompanying regulations in the late 1960s.

In the 1950s, the Housing Trust was responsible for about 30% of all dwellings built in the metropolitan area as well as adding significantly to the housing stock in eighty country towns. Unlike the public housing authorities in other Australian States, the Housing Trust was also involved in the purchase and servicing of industrial land close to some of its housing developments. As the major land developer and construction agency in the State, the Housing Trust, under its General Manager, A.M. Ramsay, sought to keep the average price of housing low in order to attract industrial works to its residential projects. In addition to its rental housing, the Trust built many houses for sale on low deposit terms. Initially Trust housing was built in clusters near public transport rather than in vast estates, but in 1949 the Trust undertook the most important single initiative in new town creation in post-war Australia.

Some 2000 hectares of farmland were acquired for the town of Elizabeth on a gently sloping plain 27 kilometres north of the centre of Adelaide and well serviced by rail and main rads. Elizabeth was intended to be largely self-contained, based on the model of the British 'new towns' around London. The town was to have a balanced mix of housing and jobs, a town centre combining commercial, social and cultural facilities, and a system of housing in suburban neighbourhood units each with its own retail hub and primary school and bounded by green strips and open spaces.

Construction began in 1954, and by the late 1960s the population exceeded 40,000. Elizabeth's facilities and physical appearance were superior to other Australian housing projects for blue-collar workers. Half the resident work force travelled each day to jobs outside the town. By the late 1970s, however, economic recession and social change brought an abnormal burden of high youth unemployment and single-parent households to Elizabeth. The growth in the welfare-dependent population reflected the changing role of the Housing Trust from an agency promoting economic growth to one charged with housing the economically disadvantaged, including single mothers, the unemployed and the elderly.

In 1955, the year after construction began at Elizabeth, the Playford Liberal Government established a town planning committee to prepare a comprehensive plan for future development of the entire Adelaide metropolitan area, specifying that any land proposed for subdivision must be capable of economical provision of sewerage and water. Stuart Hart, a young British planner, was appointed Town Planner and the committee's Chairman. By 1962, Hart, with the assistance of a small technical team, had prepared the impressive Report on the Metropolitan Area of Adelaide, 1962, which included development proposals for the next thirty years.

A cautious plan, rather than visionary, it provided for the growth, in stages, of a linear city spreading from Gawler in the north to Sellicks Beach in the south. More low-density housing was recommended, although a few areas of higher density were also proposed along the seafront and around parklands. It also provided additional industrial zones and an important innovation in the form of seven new major suburban 'district centres' where shopping, social and cultural facilities would be located together.

The plan included buffer strips to separate the several outer metropolitan districts and, most importantly proposed the establishment of a special zone to retain the rural character of the hills face, both as a backdrop to the metropolitan area and as a barrier to urban development in the hills. The Report also recommended a system of freeways totally 156 kilometres which would be expected to 'serve road traffic needs up to 1981'.

The government of the day did nothing about the plan except to call for objections and commission the Metropolitan Adelaide Transport Study (MATS) to examine the freeway proposals. It was left to the Dunstan Labor Government to accept the 1962 plan as the authorised metropolitan development plan and provide, in the Planning and Development Act of 1967, the structure for controlling private development throughout the State.

The land-use proposals of the 1962 plan, shown schematically on the map, have, with little modifications, guided subsequent developments. The MATS transportation plan, however, received a very different reaction on its release in 1968. The MATS proposed system of 98 kilometres of expressways found support among the motoring and construction lobbies but provoked such wide-spread condemnation among the general community that it discredited the technical approach to urban planning. Successive governments have deferred or cancelled sections of the proposed freeways; the line of the northeastern freeway is replaced by the world's first guided busway, or O-Bahn, outside Germany.

An ambitious but controversial proposal to build a new city near Murray Bridge in the early 1970s produced some innovative concept plans and a number of social and environmental reports. Conceived at a time of high rates of immigration from overseas and high Australian birth rates, it was intended that the new city of Monarto would absorb much of Adelaide's population growth, then projected to reach 1.3 million by the year 2000.

Monarto was admitted into the 'new cities programme' of the Whitlam Labor Government and received $10.5 million in Federal funds for land purchase and tree planting between 1973 and 1976. A drastic revision of projected population growth, and the dislike of both Federal and State Liberal governments for new city ventures, brought about the cancellation of Monarto in 1980. Today part of the site is marked by thousands of flourishing native trees and shrubs planted on the once-bare farmland - markers on the grave of a city that never was.

Since the demise of the concept of Monarto, urban planning activity in South Australia has been concentrated on smaller projects such as the new town of Leigh Creek South, the River Torrens Linear Park in Adelaide, and the project to redevelop the Adelaide railway station site. At the metropolitan level, activity has focused on the co-ordinated management of land release and the provision of services for new suburbs. At the local level, there has recently been very useful work in recording and preserving buildings of heritage value, promoting residential 'infill' on bypassed vacant sites, improving streetscapes with planting and paving, and encouraging the Greening of Adelaide project which will enhance the environmental quality of the less leafy suburbs.

Reflecting the general shift from 'broad brush' planning to a greater concern for environmental and social details, the South Australian Housing Trust has shifted the thrust of its activities from building large estates and houses for sale to providing rental accommodation and smaller projects. For the first time it has played a role in the residential rehabilitation of the City of Adelaide and the inner suburbs by purchasing and upgrading existing buildings, as well as building new and generally small projects of the 'town house' or 'cluster' nature.