Victoria Square, Adelaide. Credit: Trentino Priori, via Wikimedia.org

All cities are blessed and cursed by cars; great servants but terrible masters. Many cities are trying – and succeeding – in bringing them to heel; consider New York’s Broadway pedestrianisation, and Seoul’s former motorway now Cheonggyecheon River Park

How do Adelaide’s efforts compare alongside these and other examples? Here’s Part three…

After the roads crossing Adelaide’s central open space were reconfigured some decades ago into the current diamond pattern (see title image) a traffic engineer supposedly observed that Victoria Square had become “…the best roundabout in Australia”.

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Conceived thus, Council’s recent upgrade merely entailed the refurnishing of a roundabout.

Despite its excellent redesign by talented landscape architects, the Victoria Square upgrade – the literal centrepiece of greater Adelaide – succinctly symbolises its city-making priorities.

Squares and cars

A quick and very rough calculation from Google Maps reveals that of a total 56,000 square metre of area between the bounding buildings of Victoria Square, some 30,000 square metres – more than half – is devoted to roads, footpaths, tram tracks, bus lay-overs, and roads; some 55 per cent of the total. 

Four left-over landscaped “traffic islands” mark the corners, but are too small to support significant quiet repose.

Only the northern part (top of the image) is extensively landscaped and hosts special events, such as those during the Tour Down Under.

The comparative proportions for Sydney’s Hyde Park – with similar bisecting and bounding roads, along with rail infrastructure (albeit underground) – is revealing. 

At some 195,000 square metres (almost four times Adelaide’s) Sydney’s “green lung” has about 45,000 square metres of roads, footpaths etc; some 23 per cent of the total.

Sydney’s Hyde Park is large and well planted enough to be a destination. It hosts the permanent Shrine of Remembrance, is a frequent lunchtime picnic spot and regularly hosts cultural and food events within its lush confines.

Yet the size of roundabouts does not matter, as well illustrated by the tiny yet delightful Mrgvali Baghi Square in Tbilisi, Georgia (see image below). 

Very literally a roundabout linking five feeder streets, the central “square” is some 60 metres in diameter, yet is regularly thronged in early evenings with multi-generational crowds from surrounding residential buildings, all strolling, sitting and chatting.

Image by author

Adelaide’s secondary squares each host different road patterns that mostly stress rapid traffic through-put. 

Adelaide’s Whitmore Square is the stand-out exception. With no crossing streets, it leaves the centre of the square largely placid, a feature that Adelaide’s shrewd First Nations population regularly enjoys unmolested, thanks to the pedestrian deflecting moats formed by the furious perimeter roads.

Adelaide’s over-wide streets

It is difficult to imagine a more intense cinematic homage to reckless vehicle culture than the “Fast and Furious” franchise. The latest, F9, was partly filmed in Tbilisi, Georgia. 

Its main street – Rustavelli Avenue – measures some 40 metres wide, yet accommodates a graceful 10-metre-wide boulevard each side separated from its central six lanes of growling traffic by mature well designed and much enjoyed landscaping. 

Unsurprisingly, given the opportunities afforded by Adelaide’s flat and wide streets, support for bikeways is strong and growing, yet delivery remains stubbornly weak in favour of cars

Visitors are perplexed and locals angry.

Temples for cars

The stationary condition of cars is celebrated in central Adelaide. 

Car parks abound; but to be fair, they do in many other cities, though perhaps with not quite the same dominance.

After enjoying Adelaide’s East End night-life, visitors may encounter a prominent un-windowed building at a major inner-city intersection. 

That building is a council car park (see image below).  

Image by Mike Brown.

Council owns many others.

The city’s famed central market is capped by a council car park complex that weaves its way over half a city block. 

Directly opposite, snappy new affordable housing and a bus station are embedded in yet another council operated car park.

When big events are on, even the city’s famous parklands are pressed into car parking service.

Attentive visitors will detect a theme; Adelaide loves the car, particularly when it is going nowhere. 

The obsession with car parks even extends beyond the parklands. A remarkable well-known and slightly notorious house (see the following black and white image) by one of Adelaide’s better architects was demolished to make way for an open-lot car park.

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It is often cheaper to drive into and park in the city than to catch public transport.

Not surprisingly, car parks are often the “highest and best use of land” in much of Adelaide city, seemingly more lucrative than developing the land any further.

Adelaide is also known for its devotion to its heritage, yet even significant buildings come second to car parks. Some literally consume older buildings. 

On Adelaide’s groovy Hutt Street restaurant precinct, this local heritage item was gobbled by a very hungry digger to make way for another open-lot car park.

Image by Alexander Wilkinson.

Perhaps most poignantly, the masonry bones of this small historic house, once an architect’s office, sits suspended in time behind the glass of a car park lift-lobby, as visible and dead as an amoeba’s lunch (see Google Street View image below).

Image via Google Street View.

Dear reader, it’s your turn

We have reviewed, perhaps a little flippantly, Adelaide’s relationship to cars, noting its urban form preferences compared to other cities that seem to apply different priorities. 

What do you think these comparisons say about Adelaide?  How might the Adelaide examples be characterised along the spectrum Crapelaide, Sadelaide, Naffelaide, Myeh-delaide, Happilaide, Radelaide, Fabulaide or Spectaculaide?

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Mike Brown

Originally from Adelaide, Mike Brown has worked in NSW local and state government in planning, urban design, and strategic roles for 15 years. He is also a graduate of the Masters of Urban Policy and Strategy program at the University of NSW.
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