The Future History of Adelaide: Ecopolis Adelaide

Sharon Ede
4 min readJan 13, 2024

This ‘future history’ of Adelaide was based on ‘Los Angeles: A History of the Future’ (1982) by Paul Glover, and is written from the year 2136. It examines how Adelaide became an ‘ecopolis’ — an ecological city — over 150 years, reversing the damage done to the region since European colonisation began in 1836. At the time, there was a proposal for a ‘piece of ecocity’ in Halifax Street, whose features and design principles are referenced as the first fractal of this change. This larger scale proposal did not eventuate, but a smaller scale exemplar, Christie Walk, can be found in the CBD at 105 Sturt Street, Adelaide.

This was written in 1995 at university, as a directed study for history, and reflects my thinking, understanding, available technologies and references at the time. The Ecological Crisis of the 1990s is referred to as ‘EC’ and phrases like ‘200 years EC’ mean 200 years after this Crisis.

Image credit: Paul Downton, “Shadow Plans” in ‘Form, Function, and Cultural Memory: Recalling the Nature of Cities

Adelaide’s transformation into an ecological city — an Ecopolis — wasn’t easy. Today, we often cannot understand the actions of our predecessors. It is always easy to criticise and condemn in hindsight, but while greater knowledge and understanding, not to mention improved technology, make such actions inexcusable in today’s world, the newly-arrived South Australians of 1836 did what they believed was right, and what was necessary for survival in their situation. Those Adelaideans of EC times, however, have less of an excuse, but once people became conscious that cities — including Adelaide — were at the centre of the worldwide Ecological Crisis during the late 20th century, people began to organise themselves to take action.

It is readily acknowledged that the Adelaide of EC times was a mess. The city was too dependent on resources far removed from the city itself, or resources that were running out. The city behaved as if it was not a part of nature, and for a long time, the urban environment was not considered to be a part of the environment as a whole. Our systems of governance, economics, education and work reinforced this view of the world.

Two headings which would normally be expected in an analysis of cities but which I have omitted are ‘Health’ and ‘Technology’.

The health of individuals largely depends on the health of their environs. It is not a discrete concept which refers only to hospitals and modern medicine. ‘Health’, like ‘Environment’, permeates all aspects of city life. A healthy city provides the basis for a healthy population.

However advanced it may be, technology is only ever the means to an end. Lewis Mumford defined ‘technology’ as ‘the tool plus its use’ (Downton, 1995). Fire, for example, can be a useful tool which provides heat and light. Or it can be the destructive tool of an arsonist. A hammer can be a creative implement, used to make things, or it can become a weapon. Technology is value-free — it is human beings which put it to use for good or ill.

‘Technology doesn’t make cities, people make cities!’

(Downton, 1995).

Grand government visions of cities of the future failed, as had the visions of certain individuals, because they did not include the people who would be living in those cities in the planning process.

Real cities are made by the people who live in them, not by remote bureaucracies; people are perfectly capable of articulating their needs and have the skills to fulfil them.

Real communities, too, can only be created by their inhabitants; they cannot be made artificially.

(Girardet, 1992 p118)

The ‘Shadow Plans’ of Adelaide, inspired by Richard Register’s example, were put together by Urban Ecology Australia’s Digby Hall at the height of EC. They showed how Adelaide could physically become an ecological city by ‘shrinking’ the urban sprawl around higher density regional centres, typically the old village centres of Port Adelaide, Norwood, Glenelg, Salisbury, Marion, Noarlunga etc. The land previously buried under suburbia was then reclaimed as bushland, or for agricultural or recreational purposes. These plans captured people’s imagination, especially after the first piece, the Halifax EcoCity, was built during EC.

From this example, people understood that it was within their power to create happy, healthy, ecologically responsible futures for themselves.

Image credit: Paul Downton, “Shadow Plans” in ‘Form, Function, and Cultural Memory: Recalling the Nature of Cities

This Future History is dedicated to the memory of Chérie Hoyle, 17 May 1946–12 Jan 2024

Chérie handed me a copy of Paul Glover’s ‘Los Angeles: A History of the Future’ in the mid-1990s, and suggested I have a go at writing something based on it for Adelaide.


Downton, Paul (1995) ‘A Car Crash Led Economic Recovery’. Fact Sheet. Centre for Urban Ecology, Adelaide.

Girardet, Herbert (1992) The Gaia Atlas of Cities. Gaia Books, London.



Sharon Ede

Regenerative Cities Activist | Circular Economy Catalyst | South Australian Government | Award Winning Author | |