Heritage Places of Adelaide

The Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout


City of Adelaide


National Heritage Place

The Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout is a significant example of early colonial planning which has retained key elements of its historical layout for over one hundred and seventy years.

The 1837 Adelaide Plan attributed to Colonel William Light and the establishment of Adelaide marks a significant turning point in the settlement of Australia. Prior to this, settlement had been in the form of penal colonies or military outposts where the chief labour supply was convicts.

The Colony of South Australia was conceived as a commercial enterprise based on Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s theory of systematic colonisation. It was to be established by free settlers who would make a society that would be ‘respectable’ and ‘self-supporting’.


The Adelaide Plan was the basis for attracting free settlers, offering certainty of land tenure and a high degree of amenity. Being formally laid out prior to settlement, with a grid pattern and wide streets and town squares, the Plan reflected new town planning conventions and contemporary ideas about the provision of common or reserved land for its aesthetic qualities, public health and recreation.


The Plan endures today in the form of the Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout. The key elements of the Plan remain substantially intact, including the layout of the two major city areas, separated by the meandering Torrens River, the encircling Park Lands, the six town squares, the gardens and the grid pattern of major and minor roads.


The Park Lands, in particular, are significant for the longevity of protection and conservation and have high social value to South Australians who regard them as fundamental to the character and ambience of the city of Adelaide.


The national significance of the Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout lies in its design excellence. The Adelaide Plan is regarded as a masterwork of urban design, a grand example of colonial urban planning. The city grid and defining park lands were laid over the shallow river valley with its gentle undulations, described by Light as the Adelaide Plains. The city layout is designed to take full advantage of the topography, an important innovation for the time. The streets were sited and planned to maximise views and vistas through the city and Park Lands and from some locations to the Adelaide Hills. A hierarchy of road widths with a wide dimension to principal routes and terraces and alternating narrow and wide streets in the east-west direction were featured on the historic plan. Features within the Park Lands area included a hospital, Government House, a school, barracks, a store house, a market and a botanic garden and roads.


The tree planting designed and implemented since the 1850s and the living plant collection of the Park Lands, particularly within the Adelaide Botanic Gardens are outstanding features. The encircling Park Lands provide for health and recreation for the inhabitants while setting the city limits and preventing speculative land sales on the perimeter.


The emphasis on public health, amenity and aesthetic qualities through civic design and provision of public spaces were to have an influence on the Garden City Movement, one of the most significant urban planning initiatives of the twentieth century. Ebenezer Howard, the founder of the Garden City Movement cites the Adelaide Plan as an exemplar in his Garden Cities of Tomorrow.


Even before this influence, however, the Adelaide Plan was used as a model for the founding of many towns in Australia and New Zealand. It is regarded by historians and town planners as a major achievement in nineteenth century town planning.

The Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout is also significant for its association with Colonel William Light who is credited with the Adelaide Plan and its physical expression in the form of the Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout.

Listing Information

  • Date of Listing: 7 November 2008
  • Heritage Listing Criteria:

    Criteria A: the place has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place's importance in the course, or pattern, of Australia's natural or cultural history

    Criteria B: the place has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place's possession of uncommon, rare or endangered aspects of Australia's natural or cultural history

    Criteria D: the place has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place's importance in demonstrating the principal characteristics of
    : a class of Australia's natural or cultural places; or
    a class of Australia's natural or cultural environments;

    Criteria F: the place has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place's importance in demonstrating a high degree of creative or technical achievement at a particular period

    Criteria G: the place has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place's strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons

    Criteria H: the place has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place's special association with the life or works of a person, or group of persons, of importance in Australia's natural or cultural history

Disclaimer: The content in the Heritage Places of Adelaide database has been adapted from the SA Government’s South Australian Heritage Register, made available via the Data SA website under a Creative Commons licence. See: https://data.sa.gov.au/data/dataset/sa-heritage-places.

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