Preserving and enhancing Adelaide’s traditional high streets

Kevin O’Leary

Other cities, for example London, have much more comprehensive plans for preserving and revitalising their high streets essentially because they fully recognise the exceptional value that these places in providing interesting places in which to live, work, shop, and recreate .It is recognised that they have active and vibrant pedestrian environments and their accessibility and connectedness to adjoining neighbourhoods helps make cities more walkable and cycle-friendly. The variety and flexibility of buildings along high streets offer many businesses a range of space tenure and cost options. They also accommodate a wide range of civic and public uses, such as performance spaces and parks, healthcare facilities, pubs, clubs, cafes and restaurants
Unfortunately, SA’s planning system doesn’t place a high priority on preserving our high streets nor outline policies for their revitalisation

What and where are our high streets?
High streets are those neighbourhood commercial districts with traditional main street physical qualities which make them pedestrian friendly and walkable. Prospect Road, Unley Road, the Parade in Norwood and the Strand at Port Elliott are obvious examples but there are many others in the metropolitan and country regions
They are well connected to neighbouring residential areas and provide a wide range of mainly small footprint shops, businesses, entertainment facilities and other land uses which front the high street and contribute to a fine grained urban fabric.

Acceptable land uses in the high street
Small footprint shops, businesses, entertainment facilities and apartments that contribute to a fine grained urban fabric of the high street are appropriate
Industrial uses, conglomerations of large retail boxes, large footprint multi-purpose service stations, and land uses which don’t provide an active street frontage or fine grained urban fabric, e.g. large car salerooms or car yards, are not supported. 24 hour or late night business activities should only be allowed at an appropriate distance from residential areas and apartments
High streets, like many other major retail areas in the city, are being impacted upon by online activities. Similarly, business activities are being impacted by home-working, hot-desking and new forms of communication technology.
In view of these trends the Alliance believes that current planning policies need to be modified to allow high streets to become more multi-functional and social places, by accommodating a wider range of land uses, e.g. big brand shops adding social and local activities, shared workspaces for freelance workers, online business looking for bricks and mortar locations and artisanal light industry
The slow food, locavore movement has led to a resurgence of old fashioned, service oriented food shops – greengrocers selling fruit and veg, old fashioned butcher shops and bakeries- and these uses should be encouraged in the high street

Big box developments
Large numbers of apartments are being developed along high streets and interstate this has been found to be attracting big box developments

Conglomerations of big box developments are not acceptable in traditional high streets .
Where single box developments are considered appropriate, the majority of the associated parking should be underground or in discreetly designed and located one to two level structured car parks.
Large blank walls of big box developments should be relieved with changes in roof line, recesses and projections of walling, windows, awnings and arcades.
Smaller retail buildings which are part of the principal building should face the high street and should have windows and separate entrances facing the street

Acceptable heights and density of buildings in the high street

It is critical that reduced heights, increased setbacks and/or the stepping of taller buildings should be applied to create sensitive interfaces with other buildings in the high street
The upper levels of taller buildings should be set back from the high street on a podium to maintain a pedestrian related scale and to mitigate unwanted wind effects
No building in a high street should be higher than 3 storeys unless the upper levels are set back on a podium. With a podium, 5-6 storeys may be appropriate providing privacy and overshadowing issues don’t arise in adjoining residential areas
Taller elements of buildings should be stepped down to the street or neighbouring buildings, or be wrapped in smaller buildings to mediate differences in scale between them. Setbacks allow greater light access to the high street, broader views of the sky and reduce the ‘canyon’ effect for pedestrians at street level. The lower parts of buildings should not be set back from the high street curtilage
There should not be a direct line of sight into habitable room windows or secluded private open spaces of an existing dwelling on an adjoining property. Side setbacks should be used where they are important for retaining privacy and living areas should be located toward the high street or public places.
Active ground floor uses should occur along the high street to increase their safety, function and interest, and large blank walls, large service areas, and co-located garages or continuous garage doors visible from the high street should be avoided.

Protecting heritage buildings and places
The scale and contextual treatment of new developments should be informed by heritage properties in the area, and tall building proposals must address the effect on the setting of, and views to and from, historic buildings, sites and landscapes over a wide area.
When a tall building is located adjacent to a lower-scale heritage property:
new base buildings should be designed to respect the urban grain, scale, setbacks, proportions, visual relationships, topography, and materials of the historic context;
the existing heritage character should be integrated into the base building through high-quality, contemporary design cues;
additional tall building setbacks, stepbacks, and other appropriate placement or design measures should be provided to respect the heritage setting.
Facadism should be strongly discouraged and commercial franchise businesses using standard building designs should not be located in or near heritage buildings.
Replication of historic detail from adjacent heritage commercial buildings or other earlier styles of buildings should not be used in the design of infill buildings. Contemporary detailing that is sympathetic to the heritage buildings should be used and signage should be designed to highlight the architectural features of the building.

Car parking areas
Car parks in front of buildings create physical and psychological barriers to the building, whereas buildings placed close to the street frame the public space and create more welcoming and pedestrian-friendly streetscapes that attract users. The location of parking facilities behind buildings in high streets is vital.
On-street parking can play a vital part in a streetscape, fostering a more vibrant pedestrian commercial environment. It is also useful to calm vehicle speeds, enhance the perception of safety for pedestrians and minimise the number of off-street car parks required.

Parking areas, particularly those at-grade, take up space, create additional hard surfaces and reduce pedestrian connectivity between areas. Sub-surface or discreetly located one to two level structured car parks should be created for big box developments.
When a parking lot abuts a high street the parked cars should be screened from the street frontage to obscure a majority of the parked cars. Screening can be continuous landscaping, attractive fencing or stone walls etc
Expanses of parking should be broken up with landscaped islands and planted strips, which include shade trees and shrubs. Such landscaping provides a canopy cover and reduces the urban heat island effect in the summer.
Alliance members have been appalled by the lack and/or enforcement of appropriate landscaping conditions in high street car parks and it recommends the State Government conduct a special enquiry into this problem.
Green parking lot principles should be applied to the development of all new parking areas . Potential options for greening car parks are the installation of permeable pavement systems , rain gardens and bio retention islands
Significant reduction of the heat island effect can be achieved with the shading of cars and pavements
Rain garden in car park, Chestnut Hill, Science Centre , Philadelphia


Signs should be compatible with the scale, character and design of the building on which they are displayed. Signs above verandah level need careful controls to ensure that they don’t detract from the design and appearance of buildings and the streetscape.
Signs should not project beyond the lines of a building and shouldn’t cover windows or important building details. Pole signs should not be higher than the surrounding buildings and sign supports should be minimal.
Signage clutter, including having signs in multiple formats, should be avoided as it not only detracts from individual buildings but reduces the effectiveness of individual signs. Repetitive signs should be avoided.
Sky signs should not be allowed unless they are displayed in a positive way to create continuity of the building form within the streetscape. Illuminated signs should not impair the amenity of adjoining residential areas.
Whole buildings or large portions of buildings should not be painted in corporate colours. Where larger buildings contain several storefronts, signs for each business should relate well to each other in terms of location, height, proportions and colour
For the most part, signs in the high street should be oriented towards the pedestrian and as a consequence they do not need to be large .

Community Alliance SA