Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Adelaide, it's time to get out and walk

Hold onto your latte, Adelaide, because I'm about to share a great secret with you that will blow your mind.

Are you ready? You might want to sit down for this. Here it is: You and New York, you've got a bit in common.

Here, do you need a paper bag to breathe into? Are you alright? Now stop laughing, breathe deeply, and let me explain.

Obviously the Big Apple is much, well, bigger than you. Sure, it has a few more internationally famous landmarks. And I'm not going to lie, its nightlife is considerably more exciting.

But after reading the story online this week over the proposal to remove parking in Adelaide's CBD it hit me that there's one major thing you have in common with New York – and one major thing you could learn.

Here it is: both cities are very pedestrian-friendly, but only one knows how to actually encourage pedestrians.

Both cities are relatively flat, built on an easy-to-navigate grid and have pretty much everything one needs within walking distance (assuming you're sticking to one general area of Manhattan and not, say, attempting to walk from tip to tip).

The difference is that in New York people don't bat an eyelid at walking 10 blocks to get somewhere, even in the rain or snow. Suggest that kind of trip in Adelaide – say, from Parliament House to South Tce, and people will automatically reach for their car keys.

Is it because Adelaideans are lazier than New Yorkers? Probably. But it's more than that.

It's true that most New Yorkers simply don't have cars – on a tiny island crammed with 8 million people, it's practically impossible to even find a place to park one, so walking is something of a necessity.

However they do have one of the greatest public transport systems in the world in the New York subway. So why do so many people still choose to walk?

Here's the thing, Adelaide: walking is actually enjoyable. You see things you wouldn't see from the driver's seat, you interact with people, you feel the buzz of a place.

And for a small city that enjoys such great weather, wide streets, empty footpaths and picturesque views, it is quite simply crazy how reliant you are on the car.

You might say “But walking through Adelaide is boring, the only shops and cafes are on the major strips, and everything in between is dull.”

Maybe, but it's a vicious circle. More foot traffic through a neighbourhood means more vibrancy, more trade and more opportunities for business to thrive. It's no wonder Adelaide finds it so hard to develop new parts of town (the south west corner, anyone?) when no one will get out of their cars long enough to visit them.

This is why this whole kerfuffle over Adelaide's parking is so ridiculous.

The state retailers' association says the plan would kill retail in the CBD, as people would simply drive to suburban shopping centres instead where they can park their cars.

Er, isn't that already happening? Hasn't that been happening for years?

Maybe Adelaide should stop talking about how to accommodate more cars in the CBD, when it's patently obvious the suburbs are always going to win that battle, and work out what else it can offer shoppers. Like say, more footpath space for alfresco dining and better public transport – both projected results of, golly gosh, REDUCING PARKING SPACES.

Take a tip from the Big Apple: a vibrant city isn't about cars parked on streets, it's about people walking on them.


This article was first published in the Adelaide City Messenger on January 19, 2012.


  1. WERD.

    I catch the train to the city each day, but then it's a 10-15 minute walk to my office. I've found so many awesome little stores that would have remained undicovered if I just drove each day and parked around the corner. It's heaps good.

    Crap, didn't mean to use the SA slogan there. But, y'know, it is.

  2. Also - dicovered = discovered.

  3. I live in Sydney and I dream of moving somewhere less 'vibrant' where parking is easy... I guess I can cross Adelaide off my list then.