In October of 1840, Adelaide City Council was the first local government formed within Australia. Not too long after the initial settlement of the city in 1936, a petition created by 2,000 residents solidified a collaborative commitment to establishing privileges and rights for the benefit of the community as a whole. Last year, Adelaide celebrated 175 years of continuous local government, and still takes pride in its ability to uphold a sustainable value system. “At the time, they instigated a town clerk, and he commented that because the council members were influential people who had come from within the community, very great expectations were formed as a result of their joint exertions; that theme was collaboration, and that’s obviously come through to the present day,” says Daniel Bennett of the city’s Design and Strategy program. “We currently employ about 900 people across many areas.”
In addition to separate planning and strategic teams across council, the Design and Strategy sector consists of about 40 members, and provides a closer look at the inner workings of Adelaide’s schematic design; they manage and build their own projects from start to finish thanks to funding from council, while providing extra service and assistance in external projects of both public and private nature through both state and federal government. “We generate, manage and build our own projects; that involves design, project management, construction administration and delivery,” says Bennett. “We also assist and are involved in co-funded private projects where, if people who have a development or a patch of street that they’d like changed or put in – outdoor dining, for instance – we can co-fund improvements to the streets that benefit them directly. We provide a lot of design review and project creation-type services across council. We help people create briefs for projects, we help guide and deliver advice, and we also provide a lot of high-level policy advice to our executive, our elected members, the Lord Mayor, and state government. So, we provide high-level city strategy advice across a whole range of different areas across Adelaide.”
One of the most exciting new initiatives just recently endorsed by the Adelaide City Council is the web-based Adelaide Design Manual – a “high-level design guidance document” that Bennett is confident will help promote fluid, uniform design throughout the city’s major projects, street upgrades and public spaces. “The Adelaide Design Manual will provide the absolute design and project consistency that will ultimately benefit the city, its residents, ratepayers and visitors,” he says. “It’s a web experience, and it’s actually designed externally with the community, residences, rate payers and businesses. So, the first question you’re asked is what street you’re interested in, and we’ve taken that deliberate approach so that it’s an online-focused tool.
When you type in your street, it comes up with a whole series of different things that apply to that street. If you typed in ‘North Terrace’ – which is one of our ceremonial boulevards – it will say North Terrace is a ceremonial boulevard and, through some very user-friendly graphics and the way we’ve presented the website, it tells you the elements of a ceremonial boulevard. For instance, it’s a wide street, it’s usually got several lanes of traffic, it has very wide expansive foot paths, we use high quality domain materials, and there’s an element of civic uses and public spaces. It gives you high-level advice so that, if you’re a developer and you’re looking to put a development on North Terrace, here’s the type of interface with the street we’d like to see. If you’re a resident on that street and you want to know about the type of street trees that are there, it gives you some guidance on that. It’s used to provide guidance for that, but it’s also used for government – our own people internally in other areas of council – to understand our vision for that street. Not all of our streets are complete. We’ve got lots of streets in the city that haven’t had a lot of work done on them in recent years, so here’s the vision for those types of streets; that actually helps people as a community all the way through to internal stuff.”
Adelaide’s influence as a major city has inspired the initiative to make it the first carbon-neutral city in Australia – in partenership with the State Government. Bennett and his associates work very closely with other sectors from a planning perspective to ensure a strong plan of action for the sustainable future of Adelaide and its residents. “Many of our projects involve aspects around water sensitive urban design, reducing the urban heat island effect, and capturing and treating storm water, but also creating greener and happier places,” he says. “Our policy and design guides enable that, so our approach is very much a holistic approach and how that contributes to the greater city. Is it meeting our strategic plan targets to create 100,000 square-metres of extra green space over fours years? Is it reducing the urban heat island effect? But, also, is it creating better streets that are shaded in summer and let the sun in in winter so that we’re developing an approach that actually makes changes to places?
The council’s vision is that Adelaide is a welcoming and dynamic city full of rich and diverse experiences; that’s directly out of our 2016-2020 strategic plan, which guides and develops everything that we do. It also communicates our vision for the future. It’s very simple – the four themes of our strategic plan are a smart city, a green city, a liveable city, and a creative city. The smart city, with a globally connected and opportunity-rich economy. The green city, to create one of the world’s first carbon-neutral cities and lead in environmental change. The liveable city, diverse with an enviable lifestyle. The creative city, a multicultural city with a passion to create authentic experiences. Underwriting all of that are the council’s five values of achievement, collaboration, customer commitment, integrity, and innovation.”
Building strong relationships with “staff, ratepayers, community, students, visitors, workers, suppliers and clients” is key to maintaining validity of the city’s vision and values, especially through the scope of customer commitment. “We are really focused on all of those people as customers,” says Bennett. “Internal customers, external customers and even international customers; that’s also a part of being a capital city. So, that commitment is something that all staff sign up to. We want staff to achieve; we want them to service internally and externally. We want people to work together under the value of collaboration. Obviously, being within the public sector, we want to act with integrity. But, we also want to foster innovation, and sometimes that means not doing things as we’ve done them before. Our new strategic plan really focuses on targets that will generate innovation.”
Going forward, Bennett believes that a shift in industrial reliance may need to occur in order to improve South Australia’s current economic state. The loss of two major car manufacturing sites has created an indirect effect that will need to be improved through innovation and trust towards more promising industry outlets. “What’s the role of the city in enacting change in our economy? That can be done in a number of ways,” he says. “The carbon-neutral initiative of the state is one way to generate innovation in more efficient manufacturing of other things that may be of a specialist sort of industry, like energy. At times, 40 percent of South Australia’s energy is from renewable sources – the highest in Australia – mostly from wind. Can we foster greener and newer emerging industries in energy research and more efficient energy production?
We’ve seen the emergence of battery farms that will capture that wind energy and store it so that we don’t have to rely on coal-fired power stations that generate electricity. So, what’s the role of the city in fostering innovation and allowing people to research and produce new things? The new industries will replace those sunset industries. Food production and research into food, creating greener cities again; there’s a big role for the capital city to play in that space. But, also, the education and financial sector. The universities – apart from one – are all in the city, and they have a big role to play in helping us change the way our economy works. I think creating a greener city will help change the way that the South Australian economy reinvents itself. So, I guess there are some challenges around the change in our economy, the basis of our economy, and moving from making things to providing services, tourism, research and innovation.”
With almost 20 years in design and landscape architecture, Bennett has spent the last few years expanding his interest in influencing the strategies of local government. He is especially focused towards design and transport policies within a capital city context. “I’m really enjoying delivering on those for council, developing them and making them better,” he says. “Milestones for this year and next year is really delivering on our strategic plan to make Adelaide a smart, ccreative ,liveable and green city. We’ve got a lot of things happening at the moment, and I really hope that we can start delivering some great projects, as well as meeting our targets for achieving a better Adelaide.”