Stephen Yarwood

13 September 2012 — Adelaide Lord Mayor Stephen Yarwood certainly puts his money where his mouth is.

The former urban planner, with qualifications in sustainability, has been in the role two years and one of his first moves was to dump the V8 sedan which came with the job.

The 41-year-old opted for an electric car, 100 per cent powered by solar, but has now swapped to one that plugs in.

He also either rides his bike or walks to work because he believes in “leading by example”. It probably helps that he lives around the corner.

Mr Yarwood said Adelaide, declared the sixth most liveable in the world – and the second in Australia after winners Melbourne, by the Global Liveability Survey, is slowly turning green.

The city will be 100 per cent carbon neutral by 2020, is spending $1.3 million each year in climate change proposals, is the first council in South Australia to undertake a large scale roll out of LED street lights and has installed a “huge number” of solar panels in its CBD carparks and central market.

The biggest hurdle, he says, is the country town mentality which means some residents still believe they should be able to drive into the city and park outside their destination.

“We still have big challenges,” he said.

“We are the most car dependent CBD in Australia because we still drive and move around like we are a big country town.

“Telling people not to drive is counter intuitive – no-one likes being stuck in traffic but no-one thinks they are the traffic.

“But it is also the tale of cities in the 21st century. There are more people in cities and there are more cars in cities.”

Lord Mayor Yarwood said the city was working on a number of innovative initiatives to get people off the roads where possible.

“We have the most substantial bike action plan with a budget of $2.2 million in cycling infrastructure.

“We are hosting the world’s premier cycling planning conference, Velo-city Global, in 2014 so we are really pushing cycling.

“We have installed 33 kilometres of bike paths in the last three years – you can cycle around virtually every road in the city and the parklands.”

And while more than 70 per cent of Adelaide residents own their own bikes, the city also has the biggest free bicycle network in Australia – which has a great take up rate with tourists.

Also working on removing cars from roads, there is also a pedestrian priority plan happening which is seeing footpaths being widened and a push for more bus lanes after a successful trial in Grenfell Street.

Mrr Yarwood said the State Government was also investing heavily in electrifying rail lines with Premier Jay Weatherill “focusing on Adelaide’s CBD”.

“I have been told the working relationship we have is the best there’s been in 20 to 30 years,” he said.

Away from traffic issues, Mr Yarwood said South Australia had a long history of sustainable innovation.

Anyone who has held a bottle of soft drink in the state has noticed the five cent refund.That’s now been doubled to 10 cents and a three-bin waste system in homes means 42 per cent of waste is now diverted from landfill with a goal of 50 per cent by 2015.

And while many towns and cities have tried, Adelaide is already plastic bag free unless you want to pay 10 cents for one specifically designed to break down quickly and easily.

Despite his sustainability qualifications Mr  Yarwood is loathe to use the term which he said he spent his 20s spruiking with like-minded people.

“One of the lessons I’ve learnt is that we need to create a lifestyle that is more appealing rather than good for the environment,” he said.

“In Adelaide the dialogue is about lifestyle. About a vibrant city.

“When we talk about car congestion we don’t talk about emissions but more about the loss of productivity being stuck in traffic.

“We need to engage people about what is relevant to them and their environment, their welfare.

“Small business owners don’t care about sustainability – they care about putting food on the table at the end of the day.”