Urban planning cycle: forty years is not unusual

Photo by Nathan Cowley on Pexels.com

“… can we have an article comparing the facilities in our older suburbs that are neglected and barely consist of more than a small metal swing set.”

Comment on Facebook

The reason: the grand play spaces in new estates are funded by the sale of blocks to those new residents moving into the suburb. For decades after that, the infrastructure will be maintained but not changed. If a play space is missing from this new estate design, then it will never be built later because there is no funding to do so.


If a new suburb does not get good cycling infrastructure from the start, then it will remain poor for decades. This is what is happening now in the Molonglo Valley estate development.

The beginning of the cycle

Building a city is a very slow process. A town such as Belconnen (80,000), Gungahlin (80,000) or Molonglo (50,000 planned) can take 30 years to build. Many suburbs in Belconnen are almost 40 years old and only now is there some renewal. Some shopping centres (Scullin) and playgrounds have been renewed.

One of the reasons for this is funding. The estates are built by the ACT Suburban Land Agency. All suburbs are built in stages. The sale of the blocks from each stage funds the construction of the next stage. The blocks are sold at profit and this funds the ACT Treasury. The ACT Government sets targets for the ACT Suburban Land Agency how many blocks must be sold during the rollout, year for year. New estate developments are in a way self-funded with only a “small” amount of capital required to get the ball rolling.

CONCLUSION: Playgrounds in new suburbs are funded by the sale of blocks in those suburbs. In that sense, the residents pay for them collectively out of their own pocket.

The end of the cycle

40 years later everything is looking pretty run down and must be renewed. Now there are no blocks to sell in that suburb because everything is privately owned. The ACT Suburban Land Authority is not responsible – they only do new estates. The retrofit of playgrounds and shopping centre facilities must be funded out of general revenue, ie. rates and other sources.

Where our money comes from, 2019-2020 ACT Budget, ACT Treasury
Where our money comes from, 2019-2020 ACT Budget, ACT Treasury

Lessons learnt

There are important lessons to be learnt from this.

  1. Once the suburb is complete, after a rapid phase of construction, it will be without funding for major projects for decades. To be fair, the infrastructure is built to last this long.
  2. When the time comes for renewal, there will be no golden goose to fund the works, except taxation. Taxation is sometimes unpopular but without it the city would slowly decay.
  3. The suburb design always reflects the design standards and cultural norms of the time when it was built. Look at an old suburb and you see history.

What does this mean for bike infrastructure?

If estate planning is done poorly and good bike infrastructure is not included in the original design and built, then the new suburb will discourage cycling. Without good bike infrastructure, most people will not develop the habit of cycling. It will be decades before the opportunity will arise again to get it right. Any improvements will be slow and of a lower standard than otherwise, as funding is now difficult.

The Molonglo Valley is currently under construction and the cycling infrastructure is poor. If we wait until the suburb is finished then the problem will be with us for decades.

Playground in Taylor, Gungahlin


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s