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Adelaide's suburbs must adapt to change - or we'll end up in poignant stasis

Opinion

“Greedy” developers aren’t changing Adelaide’s neighbourhoods – it’s a response to changing community preferences, argues Michael Lennon, the chair of the State Planning Commission.

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Critics of the draft Planning and Design Code have focused on the issue of infill development and urban density.

They worry about knocking down old houses to erect blocks of apartments on the same plot.

However, the real issue is about growth and change and how we manage them.

I am no urban density purist for its own sake. We are not recreating Paris. But there are certain factors that are leading to the reduced emphasis of urban fringe development and to increasing pressure for inner urban growth in South Australia. These include:

This is not only an Adelaide phenomenon – it’s happening everywhere.

If you want a house and garden, no-one is getting in your way.

It’s not “greedy developers” who are changing our suburbs but a shift in housing choice and personal preferences.

It’s driven by all of us and our children and our parents.

The issue is not whether this should happen but how we manage it and retain what is best about our streets and neighbourhoods.

Is the issue really the retention of 1930s houses filled with fewer and fewer people, or the poor quality of the buildings that replace them?

Our response must be to raise standards, elevate design, reward good performance and restrict cheap opportunism.

And by the way, when infill development is done well, we all love it. Examples include Prospect Road, Henley Square, Hurtle Square, and so on. When done badly, we all have to live with it – for a very long time.

The vast majority of the controversial apartments on Unley Rd, opposite The Cremorne Hotel, were bought by people living within two kilometres. The developer is already onto his next project.

The underlying issues are not about the code but about our capacity to adapt. Therein lies a deeper issue for Adelaide’s future.

Think ‘Flame Trees’ by Cold Chisel:

Oh the flame trees will blind the weary driver
And there’s nothing else could set fire to this town
There’s no change, there’s no pace
Everything within its place
Just makes it harder to believe that she won’t be around

The song is not specifically about Adelaide but the sentiment applies.

The demand to live closer to the city is a positive thing as it changes, refreshes and revitalises our streets and neighbourhoods.

The key question is a personal one: do you want your family to grow up, leave home and remain in the local area?

If the answer is yes, urban infill has to be part of the answer.

Michael Lennon, the chair of the State Planning Commission, has had a 25-year career in housing, planning and urban development in Australia and overseas.

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