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Breaking our addiction to sprawl

Wednesday, 2 January 2013
Author: Liam Mannix, Indaily

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HAVING a vision in government means knowing what's best for the public, then doing it. And sometimes what's best is not the same as what the public wants.

In that case, it becomes the government's job to make the public change its mind.

That's the task Planning Minister John Rau set himself when he stepped into the role early last year.

Rau has accepted the view of the state's planning, infrastructure and demographics experts - that greater Adelaide spread too far 40 years ago, and its continued spread is starting to damage our social fabric.

But that wisdom goes against everything Adelaide has known since settlement. If Rau and the planning experts are to convince people of the merits of compact living, the opinion shift will need to be radical.

"This thing is like turning around the Queen Mary," Rau told Indaily from his office high above Pirie Street.

"The development industry here and the public are so used to the greenfield development model that if we tried to just turn that model off overnight it would be a very profound shock, which might be a little too much for people to handle."

When planners come together, talk inevitably turns to Adelaide's dangerous and damaging low-density addiction. The conversation at Planning Institute of Australia lunches always gets to that point eventually, seemingly dragged down by the collective weight at the bottom of a hundred planners' stomachs.

And Rau has clearly drunk the Kool-Aid being served at that lunch table.

"If you look at it on the macro scale, and this is my personal opinion only, but probably by the mid to late 1970s we should have been turning our minds to whether we want Adelaide to be an enormous, flat, one-storey city, or whether we want to make it more of a European-style city with higher-density areas," he says.

"Now, for whatever reason, that conversation didn't occur back then, and we now have a city that starts at Seaford and ends at Gawler.

"If that were to continue, leave aside the enormous infrastructure burden it would place on future taxpayers, the complete atomisation of the whole city - where you have to literally drive for 80km to get from one end to the other - it's just madness for a city of this population.

"If the city keeps going the way it's going, it's going to be a very long, skinny place with these horrible enclaves in the outer extremities, where people live in the absence of basic services, poor public transport, and [it will be] incredibly expensive to maintain and service, which is a burden on the whole community."

Adelaide has grown comfortable with low density because historically that's what's been provided.

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