Montefiore: Are you an Adelaide Person?

Are you an ‘Adelaide person’? Can you be ‘agile, enviable and green’ and yet not be an ‘Adelaide person’? Sir Monty explores a new city strategy in which is buried some anxiety as to whether its proposals might be seen to be either ‘too bold, or not bold enough’.

It’s only a small word, but among the selections available to Adelaide’s spin doctors in that great in infirmary they call the machinery of government, the term ‘bold’ is a gold-plated little number. Analyse the news releases and policy statements spun inside local government, and you’ll find that little adjective scattered across the linguistic landscape like shards of glittering opal. ‘Bold’ is only one step short of ‘Courageous,’ but among city councillors, their administrative executives and their elected leaders, it’s about as far as anyone wants to go. Words are crafted into fine, corporate costumes daily, but sometimes the fabric has to be suddenly unpicked and rewoven. No-one wants yesterday’s out fit: frayed cotton, worn cu ffs or mismatched buttons. Although Town Hall has a busy sewing machine, sometimes hems slip and the contrast between old and new is revealed. Town Hall has a new strategic plan ‘for community engagement’, a blueprint for dynamic delivery to 2020. It’s probably meaningless to you – unless you’re one of the 262,000 people ‘attracted to the city’ daily (including 122,700 working; 86,000 studying; 22,690 residential). You are? Then you might be curious to know about the way the city’s bureaucrats very recently changed the way your city’s future is perceived. Just before Christmas, Town Hall’s ‘vision-thing’ for the metropolis was in preparation. It was based on four ‘outcomes’ – an agile economy; an enviable lifestyle; an Adelaide experience; and a green way of life. One wonders whether a ‘Hobart’, ‘Melbourne’ or a ‘Perth’ experience could be in any way similar? Or a black, a pink or a rainbow way of life, as opposed to the colour of a frog? Can you be an agile, enviable and green person but still not an Adelaide person? Or an Adelaide person but none of those other things? Forget it, these outcomes are now old hat. Forget you ever read them. The new combination is now – smart, green, liveable and creative. “Adelaide has a vital role in shaping the future of the state. The city has a proven record in cultivating new ideas, having led the nation and in some cases the world in commercial, social, environmental and cultural innovation and reform. This sets a strong foundation for Council’s long-term vision – Adelaide is a smart, green, liveable, boutique city full of rich experiences.” In the preparatory background notes, that statement is the new one. The old one (only three months ago) was something di fferent, but you must cast its ideas from your mind, because the following is now Oldspeak. “As a city of firsts, Adelaide prides itself on cultivating new ideas, having led the nation and in some cases the world in commercial, social, environmental and cultural innovation and reform. Through Picture Adelaide 2040 we heard that major firms will often test and trial products in Adelaide before rolling out to wider markets. This sets a strong foundation for council’s long-term vision for Adelaide, that we will be ‘Australia’s smartest city,’ a place where people and ideas come to life.” Sir Monty suspects that the notion of ‘people coming to life’ might well have been a Town Hall Freudian slip, deeply revealing about how things really are perceived within Pirie Street’s Corridors of Power and wider places, in a city where some people haven’t been observed to breathe in years, let alone shown any signs of movement. While that is another issue, it might explain why so many ‘Adelaide persons’ spend so much on psychotherapy instead of going to things like the Clipsal 500 motor race, overindulging in the chardonnay, and asking the grid girls for their home phone numbers. On that theme, it appears that the notion of hormonal exuberance and growth has now been diminished. That’s because the following paragraph is no more. “Throughout Picture Adelaide 2040 we heard that people have a deep a ffection for the city and cherish its unique character. While keeping the important aspects of the City there was also a very strong desire to grow signi ficantly so that more people would enliven and activate the city. To pursue the vision a primary goal has been established to ‘attract more people to the City to discover and enhance its magic and its beauty’. ” This is accompanied by a primary target to increase the number of people attracted to the city each day from 262,000 to 280,000 by 2020.” That’s gone – and, sadly, the notions of magic and beauty are dispensed with. Now, the costume has been rewoven. That’s because most of those people likely to be ‘attracted’ are people actually on a survival mission: blue and white collar workers trying to feed their families, and students seeking credentials to get jobs. It’s now: “Strengthen the city economy by growing the number of people living, working, playing, visiting and studying in the city each day.” In keeping with the hard-nosed approach, Town Hall also pledges to do the same: “… we will seek views on whether the objectives that set long-term targets for the city are too bold, or not bold enough.” So there it is – smart, green, liveable and creative, but with a touch of anxiety. If the targets are seen to be bold, perhaps we should go the extra step and shoot for Courageous? Visiting Americans are always urging us to aim high. But would ‘an Adelaide person’ do that? It’s a sort of eternal question that plagues every South Australian.

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