I’m sitting on the balcony of our lovely apartment, overlooking the northeast end of downtown Adelaide (although here it is called the Central Business District or CBD for short) looking at the old Royal Adelaide Hospital and marveling at the sight. Well, that’s not quite true. The part of the hospital I can see dates from the 1970s and looks like every Canadian government building you can imagine; architecturally boring, slab sided and dull. What I am really marveling at is what the view will be like long after (unfortunately) we have moved on and it promises to be quite remarkable.
There are a couple of things you should know about the old hospital; it originally opened in 1859 and eventually expanded its sprawl to house 23 departments, including the University of Adelaide Medical School, School of Dentistry and South Australia Pathology department. It’s big. It also sits adjacent to the beautiful botanical gardens which is of similar vintage. The most interesting thing to note about the hospital is that over the course of the next couple of years, most of it will disappear and that says something about the people and municipality of Adelaide.
When the city was originally laid out, it was planned to have extensive parkland around the central core. In the early years, some of the planned parkland was encroached upon, so what exists today is smaller than originally planned, but that is about to change. When the new hospital was planned, plans were also put in place for the reclamation of a large part of the old hospital grounds. Except for the heritage buildings that formed part of the original hospital complex and the buildings belonging to the University, 70% of the existing site, totaling two hectares of land will be returned to public use or greenspace. It is not only an audacious reaffirmation of the original vision for the city, it also recognizes the vital role that access to greenspace plays in the wellbeing of the citizens of Adelaide. In fact, the whole plan demonstrates something about Adelaide that I don’t often see in Canada; engaged citizenry, municipal governments that genuinely value public input and civic pride in collective achievements. Let me leave you with just one example.
Three days ago, we went to the public opening of a bus tunnel just a block and a half away from where we live. Weird right? Not so for Adelaide. In the month and a half that we have been here, we have had three written updates from the city about progress on the project, including details about ancillary projects and the opening day festival. You read that right— an opening day festival for a bus tunnel. It is simply something I couldn’t imagine at home. In the end, simple curiosity and our kids interest in the food tents led us to join in with the steady stream of people walking past our building to the tunnel. The tunnel is a wonderful piece of engineering; 670 metres long, incorporates green technology, is designed to facilitate more efficient public transit and alleviate traffic congestion. It is more than that, however, it is a physical symbol of the commitment the city of Adelaide has made to a greener, sustainable future. We, naturally, joined a few hundred other members of the public and walked the length of the tunnel marveling at what had been achieved. I can’t help but think that there is a valuable lesson here.