Adelaide – call for a more sustainable plan

Did you know that in New York they are planning a 30 storey farm? The movement to inject new life into the green building movement – formerly known as Chrysalis – and now known as SHIFT – has made its first public submission, to the Draft Plan for Greater Adelaide. And that’s the sort of thinking that’s needed they argue.

The full submission is below, but first, the key conclusions were:

Adelaide is at a tipping point whereby it can choose its destiny and take a visionary step ahead of other cities in Australia.  The knowledge, vision and capability of how we could develop a sustainable city of the future exists in Australia and by setting a goal of achieving this here, we can attract the leaders in the field to redevelop and reinvigorate Adelaide. This in turn would stem the tide of knowledge loss, increase our productivity, reduce our waste, and raise the quality of living for all of its population.

The plan for Adelaide is a praiseworthy initiative, but one that risks being restricted by a vision that falls short of a sustainable city.

The SHIFT network welcomes being contacted to discuss the solutions introduced in our submission. We do not have all the answers but are willing to set our benchmarks high and work together to solve the challenge of making Adelaide truly sustainable and the most liveable city in Australia to live if not the world.

Following is the substantial text of that submission.

Why provide a submission?

As an organisation of more than 150 members drawing from a broad range of disciplines across industries creating and managing our built environment, the SHIFT network has an extensive range of skills and experience which can provide transformative thinking for Greater Adelaide.

Who we are:

SHIFT is a national network of professionals concerned about the sustainability of the built environment.

Global sustainability requires a transformative shift from current practices.

SHIFT is a new leadership network of professionals passionate about transforming Australia’s built environment and moving towards global sustainability. We are an advocacy network through which members take a step back from their corporate roles and engage as individuals.

As a diverse network, SHIFT’s initiatives emerge from the group, each focusing on different aspects of how we plan, build and live in the built environment.

By connecting people, opening dialogue, distilling shared purpose, and strategically identifying how we can have the most impact, SHIFT seeks to lead thought and to influence practice.

Active since March 2009, SHIFT members now number more than 150 highly influential, experienced and passionate professionals in Australia and overseas. The network’s continued growth is testament to the appetite for new thinking.

Overview of SHIFT’s submission

Much of what is presented in The Plan for Greater Adelaide comes back to a number of core realities and base assumptions.  How as a city we approach these is dependent on our perspective of what is important to us as its inhabitants, but it is a product of our assumptions of how a city functions.

Through thinking and acting in more transformative ways we can plan a city that is ecologically and socially sustainable. Be the envy of the rest of Australia and the most attractive urban environment in Australia within which to live and work.

Currently there is a great deal that Adelaide’s population as a whole does not understand from its past of how to become a sustainable city of the future.

In a broad scale assessment of TPGA, SHIFT believes that while the direction of thought evident in the plan is very positive, and has a number of important policies, it falls short of providing a transformative vision for Adelaide and the detail of how to get there.

The core realities: Adelaide will grow, and by some 500,000 people and around 250,000 dwellings.  We currently do not have enough sustainable food, water supply, energy generation or space within the city footprint to provide for this. Growing the city footprint only satisfies one aspect – housing stock, but introduces additional food and water demands and infrastructure costs, while continuing to prolong an inefficient urban model.

Adelaide needs to be focused on how it can cope with its new population while increasing its ability to capture and reuse its available water, and increase the amount of locally grown food for its citizens. It should provide low cost housing and socially active precincts for its poorer citizens.

At the same time it should be seeking how to create innovative inner urban environments attractive to Australia’s skilled worker base to foster migration back to Adelaide, and its inner suburbs.

This means that new sustainable regions with medium density housing will need to be built and that existing land be re-developed to provide services for this shifting and dandifying population.

Our city will prosper through the vision it establishes now, and the steps it takes in the next five years, in its change of thinking and first projects to this effect.

Missing Areas of the Plan

Sustainability Tenets

One of the disappointing aspects of the plan is that while it is underpinned by praiseworthy principles there is no clear sense as to what these principles mean nor can they be used in making decisions.

Clearer tenets should be utilised in the plan to provide appropriate limits on un-sustainable practices. These should include that:

•    All new population growth occur within the existing greater urban boundary – to drive densification

•    All additional potable water harvesting required for population growth should used for drinking and food manufacture only – to drive water use strategies

•    All development should not encroach on farmable, water capture or treatment land – to maximise our environmental services

•    All new multi-dwelling (of more than three) developments must be at densities of over 150 dwellings per net hectare and be socially and environmentally sustainable at a dwelling, precinct and city level

The skills to cope with these tenets exist within our city currently and through engagement of organisations around Australia.

Missing energy and waste detail

There is no detail around the energy requirements of the city, and the required supply and demand needed for the city, in the future and with its population increase. There are no goals indicating the desired levels of energy use per capita.

There is no section currently that deals with the cities waste in all its forms, what this volume will be and how it will be handled which is a major oversight. There needs to be an analysis of the expected waste streams of the city, and the desired levels per capita, and strategies to make “waste = food” for the biosphere, manufacturing and built environments of the city.

GIS SEIVE Mapping as a holistic tool

The plan seems to have made very limited use of SEIVE mapping to define the natural services available to the city, while focusing on the built form and structure.

A GIS SEIVE overlay assessment of the most important aspect of our current city and the planning of development over the next 30 years. These maps include:
topography, hydrology, wetlands, arable land, ground water, aquifer recharge, ruminant vegetation, public open space, bush for ever, indigenous claims
power grids, roads, rail, waste water, scheme water (supply), habitat and current zoning.

From this mapping we can identify the key areas of the city that provide the low cost, local mechanisms for providing food and water. Food and water provision will be the biggest paradigm shift in our thinking of what a city is. Then we can decide based on these how and where we should concentrate our population, our transportation utilising the existing built form and infrastructure.


None of the changes proposed in the plan will occur without appropriate financial reward and discouragement mechanisms.

Very little information has been provided around the sorts of financial incentives to stimulate change, and the governance that will support this.

For instance Adelaide could endeavour to promote its employment base and reduce its carbon emissions with clever innovative incentives such as a partial shifting of taxation to discourage carbon emissions and to encourage employment by shifting some of the payroll tax to a carbon tax.

Food Production

Calls to Action:

  • Adelaide has prime areas for food production within its city limits. Not necessarily limited to soil type and rainfall.
  • Integrated food sources within city limits will become essential and should be planned for now.

Cities are responsible for consuming vast amounts of water and nutrients most of which are wasted by pumping them into the ocean. The future design of all ecologically smart cities will incorporate the recycling of water and nutrient through integrated high tech organic horticultural, hydroponic, aquaponic and aqua cultural systems.

According to intensive Dutch farming practices it is possible to provide adequate food (excluding wine and red meat) for a city of 1 million people on 25,000 hectares.

For example, most of the food for the city of Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore is provided from city administered adjacent land. And a 30-storey vertical farm capable of supporting 50,000 people is about to be built in New York.
As the cost of fuel increases and carbon emissions are charged to the users the necessity for integrated food sources within city limits will become essential and should be planned for now.

For greenfield sites every 40 hectares should include 20 hectares of agriculture for 20 hectares of housing at a density of 20 dwellings per hectare. The buildings and the land could then directly exchange energy, food, water and materials while increasing citizen awareness of the very systems that sustain them and the present expensive waste to the ocean would largely disappear.

Practically no consideration has been given to this in the 30 year Plan for Greater Adelaide.

Detailed response on a number of critical plan components

E City Governance renewable for urban re-development

Calls to Action:

  • Compulsory acquisition of land for urban redevelopment is core to this plan but there are no indications of how this will be achieved
  • Adelaide’s fragmented and self interested councils, and its state government departmental silos and poor collaboration history will prevent any major urban renewal and densification. This risk is underestimated and must be address with direct changes to government structures
  • That Adelaide adopts the models of Brisbane and Liverpool with the establishment of one government dealing with city development and multiple regional service providers.

While there is emphasis within the plan for the need of collaboration between state and local government, we feel that there are divergent goals between the plan and those of local councils.

One of the concerns regarding the plan is the level to which the whole of government approach can be effectively achieved with the Adelaide’s current state and local government structures

One tenet of this submission is that dwelling density will need to be increased to prevent increases in the urban boundary of Adelaide, while reclaiming urban space to provide improved water, food, transport and service provision to the increased urban population.

In our belief to achieve this sort of development, there will be the need to substantially rezone areas of Adelaide to improve the provision of services and dwelling densification. This will require significant levels of cooperation by local government.

There is little evidence from recent project activity that local governments are able to collaborate effectively on substantial projects. The development of TODs amongst other aspects of the plan requires extensive collaboration, but the plan does not map out a compelling framework.

Our recommendation is that the governance structure of Adelaide needs to be redeveloped to consider models of the likes of Brisbane or Liverpool whereby decisions can be made on the basis of a whole of population model, while engaging with local stakeholder engagement.

D15 Water

Calls to Action:

  • Potable water only to be used for drinking and non potable for all other purposes.
  • Redraft a specific energy section with real targets and measures.
  • The prioritory of water is not significant in the plan which refers to the Water for Good document. As an integrated document it needs to be better stated.

We are of the view that it is difficult to review water without considering energy. This is due to the massive amount of power to be used by the desalination plant and the current (often ignored) pumping costs and impacts. Therefore we have summarised our response on water followed by a section on energy.

We are very supportive of the Water for Good document, as it provides a plan with timelines and key actions required. The Adelaide Plan could have been configured this way.

The water for good document considers implementation to 2050 so simply referencing it maybe not be sufficient.

Some key notes are our interest in the status of the greywater recycling guidelines due next year, as we believe these need to be encouraged.

Another is our interest in the GAP scheme or any other non potable scheme at its potential to provide non potable water to our building stock. We believe our goal should be to only supply potable water for drinking, non potable for other purposes and on site capture and storage/reuse wherever possible.

We are advocating an immediate inclusion that all new developments (both residential and commercial) should incorporate dual water reticulation. Thereby preparing these buildings for this future connection.

We are also advocating as a longer term goal that rain water storage and distribution should be precinct based, thereby creating another non potable supply and superseding the minimal on site storage currently being adopted.

The issues of energy and carbon emissions is dealt with in our response under the climate change section

There is no specific section on energy within the plan – it is essential to differentiate between energy and climate change/emissions. The plan should set real targets for increasing renewable energy within the state. Actual targets are required for residential, commercial and industry sectors to reduce energy consumption, through elements such as changing behaviours, efficient plant and renewables.

The draft target to “maintain South Australia’s position as national leader in renewable energy by increasing the state’s renewable energy production target to 33 per cent by 2020 in line with the State Government’s recent announcement”, should be a key target of the plan. We suggest an increase to 50 per cent to assist in national emissions reduction and create new jobs for South Australia.

The draft target to “increase the energy efficiency of dwellings by 10 per cent by 2014” is seriously deficient. Learn lessons from NSW, where new residential developments have been required to reduce energy consumption by between 25-40 per cent for the past five years under the BASIX scheme. This benefits home owners by savings in energy bills, but also improves the overall housing stock by encouraging good passive design, and reduces reliance on the power grid for comfort.

Energy also needs to include a “with and without” Olympic Dam scenario.

D3 Housing density

Calls to Action
•    Housing density and smart developments that incorporate all required elements (such as water, food, public space, transportation, and economic activity) cannot be achieved without changes to guidelines for developers
•    Adelaide’s laws need to be changed to allow the development of higher storey developments

One of the deficiencies of the plan in the way it is presented is the lack of absolute boundaries on urban land use.  The process of specifying where dwelling density will increase, by how much and at what hectare requirement also needs to be specified.

By providing this realistic information about how much land will be needed to be developed and at what density will allow the redefinition of the requirements for local government, developers and the public to understand how to achieve the other aspects of the urban design policy.

Examining the information within the plan to provide of 70 per cent of 560,000 people in 13 Transport Oriented Developments would yield 195,000 dwellings with an average of two people.

At current average densities of outer urban development of six dwellings per hectrare requires 32,500 ha

Based on our analysis if the level of development in the TODs is to be achieved, then around 100 ha per 13 TODs – that is 1300 ha – will require redevelopment. Medium density developments will require densities of around 150 dwellings and upwards per hectare net. That is, a square kilometre of land in  in each TOD will need to be purchased, rezoned and master plans created.

This also does not take into account for some of the other land use demands such as food and water management which will need additional land.

While the plan alludes to the requirement of increasing housing density and the provision of smaller house sizes, it does not highlight this critical aspect of the plan.

It also does little to specify the actual densities that will be required and the processes for securing the land for these re-densification projects.

For example, the Bowden site is the premium TOD site in Adelaide and current estimates are that there will be 100 dwellings per ha gross (133 net).  This site should be developed to at least 175 dwellings per ha gross.

This will not be achievable without major reacquisition of existing housing. Solutions to this problem are governance changes, developing the TODs in segments, i.e. suburb by suburb or block by block. If a pod style city is required (i.e. a circle) then build pod segments a rolling development. If a strip style city design is preference do it by adjacent block or suburb.

D7 Housing affordability

Calls to action

  • Low cost high density alternatives should be planned and development begun immediately
  • Services should be established that effectively link these new urban developments
  • Greenfield development should be wound down immediately, and the criteria changed to promote inner urban development.

With the urban sprawl north and south, the Construction of services to these areas are already being paid for by the existing tax payer living within the current boundaries.  Hence the $100,000 subsidies offered on new land should be put back into urban redevelopment and inner suburban affordable housing.

Affordable housing is a misnomer.  –  the term should be affordable living – that is,  low cost housing and low cost of living – this will continue to be a key issue and needs to be clearly defined as to how it will function longer term.

Affordable housing should be located in a more central location, adjacent to industry where their employment is likely to be located and provide improved access to education.

Greenfield development should be wound down immediately, and the criteria changed to promote inner urban development.

Both 6 star and 7 star (NatHERS) are referred to in the report as possible targets. We support a move to 7 stars based on Green Star Multi Unit Residential tool and best practice overseas.

D2 The City of Adelaide

Calls to Action:

  • Urbanisation of Adelaide City should be a high priority to increase its urban population, services and vibrancy.
  • Mediterranean style developments with plazas should replace existing urban typology.
  • Plazas, walking spaces, laneways should be established and cars removed from the city environment.
  • All new building should require roof top gardens or green roof spaces.

The draft plan states that “the Adelaide City Centre will be the first and most important place for the new urban form to be implemented.”  However this is not replicated in the drafts policy outlines.  Of particular note is the failure to commit to any tangible targets, but particularly targets regarding the built form and transport within the CBD.

Urbanism should be established in Adelaide. Urbanism is something people love, it is a space without cars, but where people can live and enjoy the city environment.

The cities adherence to a wide streetscape that was useful in previous eras should be re-weighted towards Mediterranean plaza style designs incorporating buildings up to six stories that allow light into large plazas.

Examples of effective urban environments already exist such as The Mall, the cross malls through town, the east end market areas, Treasury Plaza and the University of Adelaide. Adelaide has the capacity to have extensive public piazzas.

There should also be a re-introduction of trees into our city streets. Some of our most attractive street locations in the greater city are those that are tree framed. Northcote St. George St, Frome Rd, Alexander St.  Hutt Street is slowly developing but struggles because of its width. Halifax street is developing well.

Green roofs in the city should be mandatory for all new development. Green walls should be encouraged. Bare concrete should be excluded.

By building a green, vibrant, exciting city Adelaide will build the reputation of the city to live in and encourage economic development, with companies locating themselves here and encouraging remigration.

We commend the Government’s plan to regenerate Victoria Square/Tarndanyangga as a community space. For too long, this space has been under-utilised and would be well served if better developed and/or with cultural and community activities.  A number of cities around the world have a central meeting place which serves as a social meeting place, location for community activities and cultural hub.  We support the Government’s plan in this regard and this should be an exemplary sustainable plaza.

We also support the “reinforcement” of the parklands as a recreational area, although consider that a lot more is required.  The south parklands are currently utilised as sporting grounds for community groups and schools and this should be retained.  The eastern parklands, including Victoria Park should be improved as a matter of urgency. This space would be so well suited to a Central Park (New York) or Stanley Park (Vancouver) style development that includes areas of natural vegetation, open space and a community vegetable garden area for nearby apartment residents.

We believe that there are three areas of significance that are not addressed in the plan; the design of future residential development, greening our existing commercial accommodation and transport within the City.

In planning future residential development, we favour a micropod style approach which will encourage diversity, characterised by plaza style development with sun warmed courtyards achieved through low northern buildings and higher southern side developments. The increase in population could then be serviced by fringe plazas with services, cafes, restaurants, child care facilities, social centres and other public amenities.

A United Nations report suggest that buildings account for:

  • 40 per cent of the World’s global greenhouse gas emissions;
  • 40 per cent of solid waste generation;
  • 12 per cent of the world’s water;
  • 1/3 of the world’s resources; and
  • Contain five times more pollutants than outdoor air

Further, they suggest that energy could be reduced by 2030 by existing current technologies and have a net economic benefit.  But to do some there needs to be incentives and legislative changes for this to occur.

The commercial office stock in the Adelaide CBD currently stands at over 1 million sq m with the majority of it being built prior to any rating scheme (such as NABERS or Green Star) being introduced.  Mandatory disclosure if implemented in 2010 will go some way to encouraging refurbishment of old stock, however the government needs to be do more and there is a distinct lack of targets relating to the commercial building sector within the Plan.

Transport into the CBD is currently dominated by private vehicles, due partly to an accessible road network together with insufficient mass transit options.  We would welcome a reduction in the number of vehicles in the CBD through a congestion charge coupled with vast improvements in public transport.  The improvements in public transport could be as simple as increasing the frequency or services and improved ticketing mechanisms (for example an unlimited monthly pass).

Longer term improvements to the transport network within the City of Adelaide could include further expansion of the tram network to follow a circular route around the CBD and take in all four minor Adelaide City squares.

Adelaide also requires additional cycling and walking facilities to further decrease the number of vehicles within the City.

D14 Climate Change

Calls to Action:

  • Separate targets provided for residential and non-residential development
  • Legislation changes through green energy standards

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing mankind today with the global community agreeing that greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced to prevent irreversible changes to the environment.
The State Government’s strategic plan acknowledges this need with a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. Unfortunately, this target is not mirrored in the Greater Adelaide’s plan; which appears to seek only a “reduction in the growth of greenhouse gas emissions…”

In order for the predicted impacts from climate change to be minimised or avoided, there needs to be targets in place. The State Government is in a position whereby targets and policies outlined in this 30 year plan can have significant positive influence on our environment and reduce the impacts of climate change.

As a group we generally support a number of your targets and policies, however, they are just a starting point and for a plan that is in place for 30 years, much more can be done.

We would like to see a staged approach to tackling the issue of climate change, whereby a variety of targets, both short and long term are identified within this plan with a corresponding “goal date”.  A number of the policies outlined in the plan should be achieved within the next 10 years, if not earlier.

We provide comment on a selection of the draft policies as follows:

We support the idea of establishing a task force and welcome its introduction.  However, this task force should be implemented immediately and its work undertaken as a matter of urgency.  For the task force to be successful, we would welcome the opportunity to provide feedback to the Minister on appropriate candidates, candidates who provide a diverse, practical background.

Draft policy 5 refers to the implementation of a six star standard for new buildings.  We are unsure of which rating scheme is being referred to; however in our experience within the industry, we would suggest that six star is an immediate target and in 30 years time, improvements in technology will allow us to easily surpass this target.  In any regard, a definition of the star rating scheme proposed should be provided.

We welcome draft policy 6 and support the use of embedded energy.  As industry participants we are determined to incorporate this technology into developments sooner, rather than later. We have so far been met with resistance from, and there have been technical issues with, connecting to the grid that must be quickly resolved.

The concept of draft policy 7 is also very encouraging, however we would like there to be a definition of carbon-efficient, so that minimum standards are maintained.

Regarding the section on adaptation, we consider that there is still a lot more to be done.  A certain level of change has already been committed to from emissions already released.  The greater Adelaide area is not immune from these impacts and plans need to be in place now to allow for easier adaptation with minimal economic impact.

The likely impacts from climate change are wide and varied, however the IPCC in its Fourth Amendment Report state that in Australia and New Zealand:

  • Annual stream flow in the Murray Darling Basin is likely to fall 10-25 per cent by 2050 impacting our water security;
  • Little research is available regarding flood and waste water management, however, increases in run off and flooding are expected which could be intensified with increases in the mean sea level;
  • There is a 50 per cent chance that by 2050 salinity in the lower Murray River will exceed drinking and irrigation water limits;
  • Toxic algal blooms are likely to become more frequent which can pose a threat to human health;

In the IPCC Fourth Amendment report, dated 2007, predictions were made regarding future changes in temperature.  In March 2009, there was an International Scientific Congress on Climate Change held in Copenhagen where it was found that the worst case IPCC scenarios are being realised (or worse) with further risk that many of the trends will be accelerate.  This is of upmost concern, particularly when considering the following table produced in the IPCC Fourth Amendment Report:

If predictions on temperature change are true, Adelaide is heading towards:

  • Greatly limited water supplie
  • Erosion of coastal communities
  • Limited energy supplies
  • Vulnerable major infrastructure
  • Increased heat related deaths, and
  • Reduced tourism-derived revenue

We therefore discourage the plan to reduce energy costs and instead encourage behavioural change and urge our state government to act decisively to reduce our energy consumption and eliminate our reliance on coal.

We welcome the opportunity for South Australia to be leaders in a carbon-constrained economy.  While we are enthused by the idea of embedded and distributed renewable energy being automatically deemed a complying development, we consider that an application of this type will rarely be submitted in isolation.  Instead we would prefer to see preferential treatment given to developments that have clearly considered the principles of ESD and have sustainability features.  This will encourage the uptake of ESD through reducing the time lag of planning applications.

We also support the state governments plan to encourage innovation in neighbourhood activities, however we were disappointed that sustainability initiatives were not including the recent schools PPP.  We encourage a larger commitment to innovation in schools, where our future decision makers can be motivated and inspired to create innovative solutions to real problems.

Draft policy 19 refers to the development of a national demonstration site for clean technology and renewable energy on a site that is not owned by the State government.  We encourage the idea, however question why a privately owned site has been ear marked in this public way.

Regarding the example targets highlighted in the report, we provide the following brief comments:

  • Emissions growth needs to be stopped, not limited
  • Zero carbon projects need to be achieved without reliance on offsets
  • A bench mark date needs to be provided for the 25 per cnet by 2015, 50 per cent by 2018 targets relating to energy.
  • Zero carbon needs to be fully defined
  • A definition of ‘standard practice design’ needs to be provided.
  • We can not rely on offsets to reduce our emissions, there needs to be a quantum shift towards low energy lifestyles.

D1, D10, D11 Transit corridors and TOD’s

Calls to Action:

  • Transit corridors require the compulsory acquisition of land for redevelopment which has not been addressed in this plan
  • There is not clear indication of how to enhance the transportation network to achieve large scale reduction in car use.

Section D11 adequately outlines the current and planned infrastructure around Transport in South Australia.  But ultimately the plan lacks a 30 year plan of how to develop the transit corridors.

There are no examples of station redevelopment incorporating medium to high levels of density required to support the growing population. In each case these developments will involve compulsory acquisition of land. Current initiatives such as the Cheltnam Race course – low density – and Brompton – not the density it needs to be as a TOD – do not provide good examples that the government will have the ability to carry through with development in these urban corridors.

There is very limited detail of the steps that need to be taken to improve the efficiency of the system. For instance as the adoption of more innovative ticketing systems to encourage participation. The development of the bus network and transportation hubs to speed movement across the city.

The underlying challenge is that Adelaide is sparsely populated and difficult to service effectively in a profit based environment. Running non-state owned public transportation in this environment will suffer from the commercial imperatives of the companies operating the services.


Adelaide is at a tipping point whereby it can choose its destiny and take a visionary step ahead of other cities in Australia.  The knowledge, vision and capability of how we could develop a sustainable city of the future exists in Australia and by setting a goal of achieving this here, we can attract the leaders in the field to redevelop and reinvigorate Adelaide. This in turn would stem the tide of knowledge loss, increase our productivity, reduce our waste, and raise the quality of living for all of its population.

The plan for Adelaide is a praiseworthy initiative, but one that risks being restricted by a vision that falls short of a sustainable city.

The SHIFT network welcomes being contacted to discuss the solutions introduced in our submission. We do not have all the answers but are willing to set our benchmarks high and work together to solve the challenge of making Adelaide truly sustainable and the most liveable city in Australia to live if not the world.

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