Five ideas for a more progressive Adelaide.


This Aussie winter I was lucky to migrate north to Europe, spending five weeks travelling through Denmark, Sweden and Norway during an abnormally warm Nordic summer.

I love travel and the perspective its gives you on your home town. As you walk around you notice the differences between where you are and where you are from. As I travelled, I made notes on what I marvelled at, what inspired me, and what I thought would be great to see in my home town of Adelaide, specifically in the city.

Those notes evolved into this article. They are five ideas born from my overseas experience that I believe would progress Adelaide forward, making us an even more fun, attractive and successful city.

The context

I spent most of my time in Aarhus, Denmark, where I was undertaking some study. I stayed in an Airbnb apartment with some Danes and its here I encountered the concept of ‘hygge’. There is no real direct translation in English, but the Danes sometimes put forward coziness as its English counterpart but hygge is more than this, it “has more to do with people’s behavior towards each other. It is the art of creating intimacy: a sense of comradeship, conviviality and contentment rolled into one”.

The word stuck with me during my visit there. BBQs in the park, bike riding through town, watching World Cup matches with friends, were all hygge experiences. It made me think, what do you need in a city to encourage hygge-like positive social experiences? To get people out, to enjoy the outdoor spaces, and to have fun.

However we want to label hygge here in Australia, I believe any policy or project that helps bring people together in and amongst the places we live and work, is good for the city, our economy, and our personal well-being.

There are many initiatives already in play around Adelaide, but after my travel, I developed some ideas too. So these are my views of what would should be on agenda — whether driven by community, council or government groups. Here we go.

One: Relax the city’s dry zone policy

Many Australians enjoy a drink to relax. Beer or wine, drinking outside over good food is something we do to wind-down and catch up with friends and family. Yet in the Adelaide CBD, and many other public areas, we face restrictions on where can consume alcohol. Are we not the food and wine capital of Australia?

BBQ and drinks with friends at Mindeparken, Aarhus. Not allowed in the Adelaide parklands.

When the sun is shining in Denmark, the Danes flock to the local parks for some sun and good times — certainly hygge. Adelaide’s current dry zone policy keeps people indoors which to me seems at odds with developing a vibrant city. Recently, the council even voted to extend the dry zone into the parklands.

For a vibrant city, we need people enjoying our public spaces on their terms.

We do have some great events that draw people to our outdoor spaces, but often the event needs to exist for people to come. Self-organising groups attracted to our spaces by their design and freedom to have drink could change that. We should be relaxing the rules. Allow responsible drinking in our city squares between noon and 8pm for a start.

Adelaide’s dry zones were set up to target the drinking homeless and push them out of the public eye. Our social service organisations argue that dry zone policies simply deal with the symptoms, shifting problems around but not addressing the actual issue. We should be dealing with the root causes of any alcohol abuse by offering appropriate the social services and not impinging on everyone else’s personal freedoms.

On any given Friday afternoon, many city workers will sit inside their offices drinking. We are missing an opportunity to get people outside in the sun with their friends. Surround them with live music and food trucks and you can create a great atmosphere.

Adelaide has some amazing open space assets which are being underutilised, the dry zones are part of that problem. The people of Adelaide deserve the freedom to use their spaces for a relaxing drink. The leap to prohibition rarely fixes anything. We should be rethinking this policy area.

Two: An Adelaide music festival

I’m not talking about a one or two day music festival here like Laneway or Soundwave. But a week long festival celebrating the music of Adelaide and to foster its ongoing development. A festival where local agents and managers work to attract the best mixture of local, interstate and international acts coupled with with labels, studios and industry bodies running workshops and conferences that give back to the local industry.

Adelaide has the Cabaret Festival, Fringe, Feast and the Adelaide Festival plus others, which all have musical elements, but I believe a dedicated music festival to a specific genre or multiple genres would give the city a new identity in the music space. We had the Fuse Festival, but that died a couple years back. There’s been nothing similar since.

The Jazz Festivals of Aarhus and Copenhagen in summer time get people out, get people discovering new artists and create commerce for city businesses. Strøm, the Electronic Music Festival in Copenhagen is another example. A mixture of free and paid live events, indoors and out ensure artists at all levels can stage shows for different audiences. Our state neighbours have these initiatives too, we don’t.

We have some great independent music focused organisations in the city doing good things for artists, venues and music lovers. Format have been around for a while, they have a mini festival coming up soon. Soundpound are kicking goals with their unique electronic online video stream — plus a bar now in Rundle St. 5/4 Entertainment are doing well too in the event and artist management space.

An opportunity exists for creative leaders and like minded organisations, along with key state bodies like MusicSA, to create something new and unique — held in and around the city. The artists, industry, entertainment venues, and public would all benefit. Just don’t hold it in March.

Edit: Since writing this, Sounds X South Australia has been announced. This is great news, and whilst it seems to of happened very quickly, I hope it grows, becomes an annual event and broadens to focus heavily on live entertainment in addition to industry specific events.

Three: A city beach

When its hot and water is near, there is a human tendency to want to jump in and cool down. If you live or work in the city, the only real watery escape is to head west to the beach or to the aquatic centre in North Adelaide. These are great destinations for a swim, but creating a city beach along the River Torrens would bring recreational water activities back to the city within walking distance for workers and residents.

“Islandsbrygge waterfront” by Jacob Friis Saxberg from Denmark. Wikimedia Commons.

In Copenhagen you will find the popular harbour baths at Island Brygge. There are enclosed dive, swimming and childrens pools, which are safe, community areas built along the waterfront. The city their worked to improve water quality to ensure its adequate for swimming. Surrounded by these pools are your normal retail establishments, kiosks and cafes. Whilst certainly seasonal, they get people outdoors, create commerce for business owners and add another dimension to urban city life.

Adelaide actually has a city beach but it’s really just for volleyball. It’s not surrounded by any water. Relocating this space river-side would be a great option and bring more people to an area of the city the government is looking to rejuvenate.

The River Torrens is considered by many as too dirty to swim in — and it probably is — but its a problem we have to fix. Someone needs to take a leadership position and clean up the Torrens for recreational use. Adelaide was built around this river and once upon a time we did actually swim in it. Over the years we’ve used and abused it. It’s current state and regular summer algae blooms is our own doing and successive governments have done nothing effective to address the problem to the city’s detriment. Yes it will cost money, but that cost is the price of our collective neglect.

A City Pool has be touted for possible inclusion as part of the Riverbank Precinct overhaul, but as yet there is little detail on what this will entail and where exactly it will be. There is no mention of improving water quality as part of the riverbank development either. We even have an Active City Strategy. But again, no mention of water quality or clear plan on how we bring recreational water activities back into our city.

Four: An actual cultural precinct

West end? East end? Where is the home of design, film and music in Adelaide? Our city needs a dedicated quarter or precinct for our creative businesses that we can actively promote and nurture.

Adelaide has a burgeoning number of design and film studios, galleries, magazine publishers, cowork spaces, even some record stores still. They are fragmented across the city however. Promoting and growing businesses like these are inherently easier when they exist in ‘spaces’ alongside complementary businesses.

Efforts have been underway in recent years to activate vacant building spaces and reinvigorate laneways throughout the city. Great work is being done by the folks at Renew Adelaide and props to the Council for what has been achieved with Leigh St and Peel St.

As we develop our city spaces, we need to think carefully about how we can attract city businesses focused on the arts, design and music to locate in complementary spaces. A successful precinct should have a mix of production businesses, making art or selling services, and places for the public to consume — galleries, cafes, shows and venues.

Whether the west end or the east end, both, or somewhere in between, an easily identified area where these business can co-exist would help attract visitors and create cluster effects for the individual organisations in these areas. We should define an area now, and it will start to organically grow if its given the support it needs.

Leigh and Peel St have the cafes, eateries and bars. Ebenezer Pl has the coffee shops. Regent Arcade has recently had an influx of new fashion shops and some cafes with plenty of vacant spaces still to fill. As we attract and incentivise new businesses to open around the city, we need to plan carefully.

Adelaide is one of the smaller capitals of Australia, but we have talent and an opportunity to punch above our weight if we continue our investment and support of these businesses.

Our artists, who drive these creatives businesses, tell the story of Adelaide. They are the ones who help define our identity as a city, both now and into the future. We need to make sure they have the right environment to thrive.

Five: Reduce our car dependency

Adelaide needs more cycling, public transport and pedestrian thoroughfares — and less cars on the road. Adelaide is increasingly facing congestion issues which will compound as more people come to the city to live and work. This is not only more dangerous, but makes our city less liveable and less attractive to visitors.

In Copenhagen there is a happy balance between pedestrians, drivers and cyclists that creates not only an effective city transport system but promotes the general well being of the people in the city. In the 1960's as car ownership become affordable, Copenhagen became plagued by heavy traffic, accidents and pollution. Forward thinking public policy through the 70s and 80s designed the city to promote greater use of bicycles and public transport and the results speak for themselves.

The development of Adelaide’s transport infrastructure is not a “car vs bikes” argument — but a question of how we can most efficiently move people in and out of the city. At a high level, solving this problem, means getting more people opting to use public transport, riding bikes, and improving the road infrastructure around Adelaide, so drivers don’t use the city as a thoroughfare.

We should not only consider the transport efficiencies of improved cycling and pedestrian thoroughfares, but the long-term public health benefits from people getting more active. The ‘car-first’ mindset some of us have is born from what we are familiar with. Plentiful cheap car parking and wide roads through the city have led us here. Unfortunately, its not scaleable and we need to find a better balance.

By investing in the right public infrastructure we’ll get part way there, but we’re also going to have to change our mindset around car travel. In Denmark, its different — “Danes associate the bicycle with positive values such as freedom and health, and in recent years cycling has actually become a symbol of personal energy.” We too can change our attitudes towards catching public transport and riding. Initiatives like Ride2Work and events like the Tour Downunder help get that change happening — positive initiatives we need to keep supporting.

It certainly is a complex problem that does divide opinion, and this article isn’t going to provide all the answers. For that I encourage you to check out the discussion paper by infraPlan which looks at the problems, the stats and the solutions in great detail. Let’s hope we see more action and investment in this urgent policy area.

The cool stuff already happening

There are great things happening in Adelaide already that we need to driving and some of it trumps what you’ll see in any Scandinavian city. We have an awesome food culture — the markets, local producers, the food trucks, our world class restaurants, the cafes driving our coffee culture. These are critical aspects of a progressive city that emphasise our diverse culture and the city’s entrepreneurialism.

We’re a connected city. Adelaide has free Wi-Fi across the CBD. For visitors, this makes travelling that much easier. A ‘connected Adelaide’ should be promoted and the wireless network extended to other major hubs around SA. Make travel for visitors easy. Integrate the online with the offline. Adelaide is doing this and doing it well.

Our startup scene. It’s coming of age. Everyone from all corners wants to see Adelaide startups succeed. We have government, council, cowork spaces, accelerators and incubators, all working to create an eco-system that supports the development of successful startups. Whilst still in the early stages, this is an example of groups working together to get stuff done.

On local business, next time you are about to make a purchase, take note of where your dollar is going and whose pocket it’s going to end up in. If you get a chance to help out a local startup or business, sign up or go visit them, buy their product, check out their service and give them some feedback. Every bit you do is good for our city and the long term viability of our state.

Where to from here

So these are my ideas for a more progressive Adelaide. I love Adelaide dearly, and many good things are happening. This is my personal contribution of ideas to further enhance our community’s well being whilst supporting economic activity in the city. Some elements are by no means new, but its my take on what I think can help make an awesome city that is attractive for us to live and work in and for others to come visit.

As they say though, ideas are cheap. It’s the execution that counts. So this is also a call to action to get out the house and do stuff. If you have an idea that pushes the boundaries, go for it. If you are passionate about a particular policy area, write to your local councillor or MP and be heard — with local council elections coming up there is no better time than now.

If we’re going to keep one step ahead, we all need to keep aware, keep fresh, and take note what is happening around us. Travel has certainly helped me with that. Our city and state is going through a transformative period, as old industries close down, and new ones emerge. What that future looks like it is yet to be determined, but for those who want to help define it, the opportunity is there. An Adelaide continuing on its progressive path will mean a brighter future for us all.

Special thanks to University of Adelaide for supporting my studies in Denmark, my roomies Anna and Martin in Aarhus, and Simone Ziegler in Copenhagen for the additional Danish insights. Title image, Adelaide by Night by Jon Westra. Follow me on my startup adventures around Adelaide @RyanJKris