Adelaide - a National Heritage icon

It’s not just Adelaideians and city visitors who love our easy to navigate city and the Adelaide Park Lands. On 7 November 2008 the Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout received the nation’s highest heritage honour when it was included on the National Heritage List.

What is the National Heritage List?

The National Heritage List records places with outstanding heritage value to our nation. To be listed, the place must meet one or more of the statutory criteria.

Over 70 items from around Australia are currently on the National Heritage List, including the Sydney Opera House and three other South Australian sites. They are the Australian Fossil Mammal Sites (Naracoorte), the Ediacara Fossil Site (Wilpena) and the South Australian Old and New Parliament Houses, also in Adelaide.

Information on a place’s National Heritage Value is recorded in the list, and only these values are protected under the Australian Government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and through management arrangements to conserve the heritage values of the place.

This means that a person or body cannot take an action that has, will have, or is likely to have, a significant impact on the National Heritage values of the listed place without the approval of the Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Heritage.

Map heritage park lands

Colonel William Light's original plan showing the Adelaide Park Lands and City layout.

Why are the Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout so special?

The Statement of Significance prepared by the Australian Heritage Council indicates that the Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout satisfied six of the nine criteria for listing. The values identify what is so important about the Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout as a National Heritage Place.

The values are summarised as follows:

The Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout is the physical expression of the Plan designed and laid out by Colonel William Light which remains substantially intact.

The Plan is also of outstanding importance because it signifies a turning point in the settlement of Australia, settled by free settlers rather than convicts. The Adelaide Park Lands are also significant as they are likely to be the first planned public park system in the world and are highly influential as a model for the Garden City Movement around the world.

The Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout is regarded as the most complete example of nineteenth-century colonial planning. The historical layout also remains clearly legible today. The place is also the only Australian city to be completely enclosed by park lands.

The Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout is an exemplar of a nineteenth-century planned urban centre. The expression of key features reflects the early theories and ideas of the Garden City movement.

The Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout is regarded throughout Australia and the world as a masterwork of urban design. This is due to the encircling park lands and the way the design responds to the topography of the land. 

The setting and wide streets maximised views and vistas through the city and Park Lands, and from some locations to the Adelaide Hills. The plan also features a hierarchy of road widths. The design was used as a model for founding many other towns in Australia and New Zealand.

The Park Lands have outstanding social value to South Australians, who consider them fundamental to the character and ambience of the city. The Park Lands play an important role as a venue for recreation areas, sports grounds, gardens and public facilities, thus contributing to the wellbeing of those who enjoy them. 

The Adelaide Park Lands are also unique in terms of the long history of community groups dedicated to protecting them.

Colonel William Light is famously associated with the plan of Adelaide for which he bore ultimate responsibility.

In 2018 the City of Adelaide and the Department of Environment and Water commissioned the preparation of a high-level issues and opportunities analysis of the Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout National Heritage listing.

This report improves our understanding of the National Heritage values of place, what effects them and provides guidance for safeguarding them. It also acts as a precursor to a comprehensive Heritage Management Plan (HMP).

Read the full Issues and Opportunity Analysis report.