Reformist ideals underpinned South Australia as a colonial endeavour and manifested from foundation in an enduring nexus between Adelaide’s urban plan and its social identity. During the first half of the nineteenth century Adelaide strove to stand out from a cohort of colonial cities established during a wave of Imperial expansion. It competed with cities in Australia, Canada, America and New Zealand for investment of population and capital from established powers looking to divest and expand.
From the outset two unique plans set Adelaide apart in the competitive colonial arena. Firstly Wakefield’s systematic colonisation theory, adopted by proponents of South Australia, promised a society with the perfect mix of social stability, financial opportunity and individual freedom. Secondly the City’s plan articulated over the appropriated landscape provided familiarity, order, public amenity and an egalitarian division of land. Although Adelaide’s structure echoed other colonial cities whose plans derived from common historical precedent, its carefully considered expression and signature ring of Park Lands immediately set it apart.
This paper will examine how this unique combination of a social and an urban plan transformed reformist ideals into what became an urban planning icon. An historical narrative will be presented based on the lived experience drawing on diverse archival sources and will include a discussion of how Adelaide’s city plan with its distinctive Park Land belt was incorporated into the ethos of a colonial community safeguarding this distinctive urban form beyond the foundation years of the colony.