empty streets

One of the most striking characteristics of  Adelaide’s  CBD  in the 1980s was the empty streets outside of the weekday’s  9-5  working hours. During the weekend the streets were more or less empty,  and apart from the tumbleweeds in Rundle Street the city was dead with respect to urban street life.  The urban life of this provincial, colonial  capital city was desolate and depressing. People worked in the CBD and lived and loved  in the suburbs.

The CBD had  been emptying  out from the 1950s, when families with children  moving to new housing in the suburbs.  Post-war migrants lived in the inner city areas and  young professionals joined the migrants in central Adelaide and North Adelaide in the 1960s and 1970s. The CBD was still all about business, commerce  and profit,  not inner city living, or the protection  of the traditional built  character of the city.


Currie St

Currie St

This emptiness  on the streets was in marked contrast  to the flux and flow of the image-texts in  a  corporate consumer culture or the rapidly changing built environment as a result of the Bannon Government’s strategy of  using major building projects to kickstart  economic growth in a crane-led recovery from economic recession. 

The governance of the city was dominated by pro-development  business interests  in the 1980s,  not residents concerned with heritage (historic buildings and streetscape or townscape protection), protection of the parklands,  or the quality  of urban living. That started to change by the 1990s.

North Terrace, Adelaide

North Terrace, Adelaide

One reason for the empty streets is that  university educated people  in their 20’s and 30’s  were leaving South Australia in search of jobs in the eastern states.  Despite  the gradual decline of the local manufacturing industry,   the increase in  unemployment, underemployment and the rise of poverty in South Australia Adelaide was slow in making the transition to a knowledge economy,  in which prosperity rests not on growing, digging up or making things, but on knowing things.

Pirie Street, Adelaide

Pirie Street, Adelaide

The hollowed out  city  is the truth of  the  common ‘this place is dying’ or  the ‘Adelaide is one of Australia’s most boring cities’ memes.  By the end of the decade the city was becoming inward looking, fearful and denials. The collapse  of the State Bank in Adelaide in 1991 reinforced this defensiveness.

Unlike a depressed Melbourne, which encouraged the emergence of a small bar scene in the 1990s with  a  thriving night-time economy and a revitalised CBD followed, Adelaide remained paralysed by the  heritage /development conflict and in  emulating Sydney or Melbourne rather than modelling its future on cities like Austin or Portland in the United States.

A creative industries revival of the CBD through a  raging against the dying of the light  was not on the horizon, since  the artists were also clearing out.


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