The City of Adelaide is located on Kaurna land. Centrally positioned between the hills and sea, the city is the geographic heart of Kaurna country with the River Torrens / Karrawirra Pari winding through it.

Adelaide is a city shaped by stories. The first stories are Kaurna. These are interwoven with the stories of other people who live, work, study or visit the city. Each story is unique because, what holds or draws someone to Adelaide is different for every person. It could be convenience, friendliness, safety; opportunity, open space, culture; inclusiveness, excitement, hope.

Whatever the reason, for those who do choose to call the city home, study or take jobs here, set up businesses, move in from the suburbs or return after time away – it was a visionary’s decision to locate Adelaide here and create a thoughtful and enduring design – that has allowed the city to evolve in such a way as to offer all those qualities and more.

Colonel William Light was South Australia’s first Surveyor-General. In selecting the site of the capital, Light chose wisely, with sensitivity, purpose and to the benefit of anyone who experiences Adelaide today – be it for an hour, a day, a season or a lifetime.

His dream, realised in 1837, was to design a city of the future: a city surrounded by nature, that could grow in a sustainable way, without cost to people’s wellbeing and quality of life. His vision has been described as genius of place and plan, from a theory dating back to Roman Times, Genius Loci, in which the spirit of place combines with the built urban form in order for people to live authentically and in balance with nature.

Central to Light’s design was a grid-like plan of wide streets, terraces and public squares, but its brilliance was in hugging the city in a natural green embrace and, in so doing, creating the world’s only ‘city in a park’. A natural contrast to the city’s bustling commercial heart, the Adelaide Park Lands are the city’s true treasure and a wondrous place to explore, escape or simply be still.

Plan of the city of adelaide 1837 by colonel william light
photo-icon City Archives – City Collection

Plan of the City of Adelaide 1837, by Colonel William Light.

“The reasons that led me to fix Adelaide where it is I do not expect to be generally understood or calmly judged of at present…and leave it to posterity…to decide whether I am entitled to praise or to blame.”
Extracts from Colonel Light's Journal, 1839

Today, urban town planners and historians acknowledge Light’s design as a master work. It’s also a shining example of Adelaide’s rich history of innovation and social reform.

As the first Australian city to be planned and developed settled by free settlers without convict labour, Adelaide was founded with early ideals of freedom, diversity and inclusion - which inspired a lasting culture of thoughtful innovation that distinguishes our city.

Ours was the first city in Australia to have an elected town council – one which more recently became the nation’s first local government authority to develop and implement a Stretch Reconciliation Action Plan and launch our Mankurri-api Kuu / Reconciliation Room. That pioneering spirit extends beyond the city’s boundaries, with South Australia the country’s first state to grant women, including Aboriginal women, the right to vote for and stand as parliamentary candidates, and to decriminalise homosexuality.

As for Light’s legacy, next time you stroll down a tree-lined terrace, stop for lunch in a city square, cycle through the Park Lands or wander along the riverbank, take a minute to tip your hat to the Colonel.

By taking what was an unprecedented step at the time, of designing a city that championed its surrounding natural landscape and prioritised people’s wellbeing and quality of life without compromising the ability to grow and be globally connected, Colonel Light gave us the Adelaide we know today. A city that – for whatever reason – we can be proud to call our own and welcome future generations into.

Adelaide. Designed for Life.