Urban Ecology Australia - Shadow Plans

The Shadow Plans of the Tandanya Bioregion

The Torrens Catchment and the Adelaide Plains. Written by Digby Hall & edited by Sharon Ede. Digital photos by Laurie Freeman.

Adelaide 1836

Adelaide 1996

EcoCity Adelaide 2136

Detail from three of the six shadow plans

The Shadow Plans

The Shadow Plans are six painted panels which show how we can create ecocities if we develop and adopt a clear set of ecological planning and development guidelines.

Urban sprawl becomes urban shrink, with urban sprawl gradually retracting around higher density centres, the health of rivers, creeks and the marine environment is restored, land is revegetated and rehabilitated, food is grown closer to the city and native animal and bird populations increase.

The Shadow Plans span some 300 years, from prior to the arrival of Europeans, who arrived and began altering the landscape in 1836 to 300 years from the date of European colonisation in the year 2136. The plans are 'snapshots' along the timeline and the dates have been chosen to best describe the process that might take place in the Tandanya Bioregion under a shadow planning approach.


The first of the panels shows the River Torrens Catchment as it was (to the best of our knowledge) before Europeans came to the Tandanya Bioregion, home of the area's indigenous people, the Kaurna ('Gowna'). The entire landscape is covered with natural bush and vegetation, the creeks and rivers are healthy, the coastal wetland systems are expansive and the ocean is a healthy blue. Information concerning the state of the bioregion before Europeans arrived can be found in various books about the history of Adelaide, especially 'Natural History of the Adelaide Region'.


The second panel shows Adelaide at present. The colours were chosen to give a graphic representation of the relative health of the environment, consequently the contrast between 1836 and 1996 is striking. This contrast is a good point to use when people claim that the shadow planning process is radical; over a mere 160 years almost the entire original ecosystem of the bioregion has disappeared - that is radical.

2036 - 2112

The next three panels show a progression from 1996 to 2136.

The third panel shows the first seeds of the shadow planning process being planted; parks begin appearing along the creeks, some urban food gardens and woodlots appear, urban sprawl has been halted, the parks along the hills face zone have grown a little...

The fourth panel is the year 2076 and is the 'key' panel. This is the half way mark between the old practices of 1996 and the shadow planned bioregion of 2136. There is a mixture of old and new land uses, urban sprawl and higher density urban centres, settlement and nature. It is now clear that green corridors are forming within the old urban areas and that correspondingly the urban areas are 'contracting' into established urban centres, the future ecocities of 2136.

The fifth panel, the year 2112, is the last transitional stage between 1996 and 2136. At this time the shadow planning process has been accelerated with the wider acceptance of shadow planning principles. There are still some remnants of the old city but most of the bioregion has been transformed into a place where the city is establishing a balance with the bioregion in which it exists.


The last panel is 2136. The urban centres identified in 2036 have grown into individual ecocities, walkable urban centres linked by light rail, each with their own character, their own industry and own transport.

Implementing the Process

Here are some of the steps which need to be taken to implement these Shadow Plans:

  • Water courses become 'backbones' of future green corridors

  • Existing urban centres become future ecocities. In many cases these urban centres have grown from the original villages around the Adelaide Plains and so the progression from village to ecocity is a natural evolution

  • Selected main roads within the existing city are marked as future multi transit corridors. The main roads once carried trams throughout Adelaide; in the shadow planned future some of these 'roads' will carry light and heavy rail, and a main road. The light rail line may even be a monorail

  • The ecocities are linked by these multi transit corridors; people can walk to their local train station and catch a train to any other city. Each city could also be served by its own tram system

  • The physical footprint of many of the cities is influenced by the transit lines running through them; hence a linear arrangement

  • The plan shape for each city has been designed to show individuality; the shape does not indicate a specific function

  • Each city has its own particular climate and microclimates, its own soil types, water availability and solar aspect. Hence each city will have its own particular industries, eg. cities around the foothills may specialise in orchards, valley cities may have many vineyards, hills cities may produce building timber and coastal cities may farm seafood and marine products. Trade between cities and other bioregions will be through the highly efficient multi transit systems

As you can see from the 1996 and 2136 panels on this page, there is still work to be completed...

The top right hand corners of the panels will show the date of each panel, and will have a key showing how Adelaide is progressing towards becoming an ecocity. Native animals and flora will be indicator species, measuring the health of the bioregion.

These will take the form of simple 'cartoon like' animal graphics, which need to be applied to every panel. Indicator species are species whose presence shows the health of their habitat eg. a frog lives in a creek; if the creek is polluted and unhealthy for a frog to live in then the frog will leave or die. If an indicator species is absent then it its habitat may be in poor health.

These indicator species are yet to be determined and research needs to be undertaken to chose suitable animals. Some plants would also be good eg. seagrasses. The same animals will be shown through every panel; the graphic can be divided into a grid of nine squares - if that species's population is in poor health then most of the squares can be blacked out, leaving only a little of the animal showing. Through the shadow planning process the health of the animals habitat should improve, thus the animal can be gradually 'revealed' on the journey to 2136. A good cross section of animals should be chosen, including some feral species. Land and marine animals should be chosen.

Other Bioregions

The Shadow Plans are focussed on the River Torrens Catchment using principles that can be applied to any bioregion in the world. While the catchments of the Sturt River and the Little Para River can be seen at the edge of the panels, the focus of the panels remains on the River Torrens.


The Shadow Plans illustrate how a conventional city can be evolved into an ecological city over the long term, while providing a guide to implementing immediate practical, on the ground changes. Shadow Planning is an invaluable tool for communities and governments (especially Local Government authorities, through their Local Agenda 21 plans) to establish workable short term goals in order to realise a long term goal - becoming an ecological city.

Colour Key

The colours for the shadow plans have been chosen for two reasons. Firstly they are intended to show as closely as possible the natural colour of the subject eg. dark green for natural bush, blue for water etc. Colours were also chosen to represent the relative health of the subject eg. light pink was chosen to indicate low density urban sprawl - when compared with the deep red for ecocities the light pink looks 'washed out' and unhealthy. The differing shades of blue for water also indicate the relative health of that environment.

The idea of using the colours to indicate health came from the 'City as an Organism' studio. The city is a living organism and the vitality of its colours shows the state of its health. Hence the 1996 panel looks pale and 'unhealthy' whilst the 2136 panel is full of rich and healthy colours.

Suburban to urban...

  • light pink - low density urban. 1995 is ALL light pink. Light pink areas will gradually disappear over the next four panels. The 2136 panel shows no pink areas but some may still be appropriate in small doses...

  • dark pink - medium density urban. The beginnings of ecocities, these areas begin in the urban centres with a corresponding reduction in the outlying pink areas.

  • deep red - higher density urban / ecocities. Established most commonly in the urban centres of 1995 but may shift slightly.

River, sea, creek...

  • light blue - water. In 1836 the water is a slightly deeper blue because it is still clean. In 1996 the blue has been made lighter in reflection of our mistreatment of the water systems. From 1996 onwards the water gradually becomes healthier, the blue eventually reaching the same shade as in 1836.

  • lightest blue - salt pans. In 1996 the salt pans near the Port River provide one of the few wetland habitats in Adelaide. This area will be absorbed over time into the coastal wetland system of 2136.

  • light blue/green - indicate marine aquaculture, found in coastal areas. These will begin appearing around the fourth panel.

  • yellow - sand dunes. 1836 & 2136 show healthy dune systems along the entire coastline. 1995 has minimal dunes, their reinstatement is a gradual process through the next four panels.

Getting around...

  • black - in 1996 black lines represent roads only. In 2136 they represent the major combined transit corridors carrying roads, light and heavy rail. The road systems within the ecocities will be shown with other drawings.

  • orange - orange lines in 1995 represent rail. These will be absorbed into the new multi transit corridors of the future.

Where we work and play...

  • light brown - rural: unsustaining agriculture (includes crops, orchards, grazing); urban: industrial wasteland

  • dark brown - industrial (polluting)

  • light grey - salt fields and associated industry

  • light green (urban) - urban parks, fields, airports etc. Most abundant in 1996, the function of these spaces will be absorbed within the mixed use zones surrounding each ecocity and will also be a standard component within the city itself.

  • light green (non-urban) - healthy sustaining land use. These will start appearing in the third panel in the form or small urban gardens. Their locations must be chosen such that they will be within the boundaries of the light green areas in 2136.

  • light green - pine plantations. Mainly found in 1996, these plantations will disappear through the next two panels. Their function will be absorbed within the mixed use zones around each city, the tree type will also be replaced by native species.

  • dark green - healthy bushland, areas of natural vegetation relatively unharmed by human activity. One of the aims of the Shadow Plans is to create linkages between such areas in 1996, firstly by establishing 'green corridors' along the creek and river lines, eventually reaching the stage in 2136 where the green corridors have become the dominant feature of the landscape.

  • darkest green - healthy mangroves. To be found around the Port River in all years, the mangroves will gradually move inland in time with sea level rise. Mangroves will also be established in the western wetlands (where West Lakes was before the land was reclaimed).


The Shadow Plans are based on an idea of Richard Register of Ecocity Builders in Berkeley, California, who founded Urban Ecology in the US in 1975. During his visit to Adelaide for the Second International EcoCity Conference in 1992, Richard became fascinated when he learnt that the Australian government opposition ministers and cabinets are known as 'shadow ministers' and 'shadow cabinets' - like alternatives waiting for a chance, waiting for their time to arrive.

In 1987 Richard Register wrote 'Ecocity Berkeley' in which the ideas of shadow planning are explained in an accessible way. Many of these principles have been applied to the River Torrens shadow plans and the book (available through Ten Speed Press, Berkeley) is compulsory reading before embarking on the shadow plans work (the book has heaps of great pictures so it won't take long to get through).

In 1994 in the Bachelor of Architecture course at the University of South Australia, Paul F Downton ran a design studio for level 3 called 'The City as an Organism'. Students were asked to look at the city as if it were a living organism and they began by investigating the creeks of Adelaide. The water courses of any environment are like the veins and arteries in a body, and the health of these water courses greatly reflects the health of the surrounding catchment. After investigating the creeks the students began constructing scale relief models of the River Torrens Catchment, extending from the coast all the way to the source of the Torrens near Mt Pleasant. The aim was to build six identical panels upon which a progression of the shadow planning process would be shown.

Constructing the panels proved to be a huge task and by the end of the first term they were still incomplete. The second term saw students involved in their own visions of what a part of Adelaide might look like after many years of shadow planning. Some students took to the hills and designed hill top cities with soaring walls and tall spires, others stayed on the plains and transformed the suburbs into compact and vibrant ecocities. The end result was a wide range of interesting and diverse ecocities and settlements that all existed within the same water catchment.

Since that time the panels have been worked on by volunteers and trainees at the Centre for Urban Ecology. The ideas begun in 1994 have been applied to the model bases with biological paints and there is now a clear and obvious progression from the first panel to the last.


The paint used in the Shadow Plans is the non-toxic 'Bio-Products' paint. Urban Ecology Australia thanks Bio-Products Australia Pty Ltd (phone +61-8-8339 1923; fax +61-8-8339 5799) for donating the paint for the Shadow Plans.

Last modified 5 April 2004