Molonglo Valley: getting it right first time round

The Molonglo Valley is currently under construction and the cycling infrastructure is poor. If we wait until a suburb is finished then the problem will be with us for decades. This is what is happening now in the Molonglo Valley estate development.

What we should remember

  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 will see history.
L Acacia buxifolia. Photo Donald Hobern, Flickr CC BY 2.0
L Acacia buxifolia. Photo Donald Hobern, Flickr CC BY 2.0

The urban planning 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.

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 regarding how many blocks must be sold during the rollout, year after year. New estate developments are in a way self-funded with only a “small” amount of capital required to get the ball rolling.

L Acacia genistifolia and Acacia buxifolia. Photo Donald Hobern, Flickr CC BY 2.0
L Acacia genistifolia and Acacia buxifolia. Photo Donald Hobern, Flickr CC BY 2.0

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. Furthermore 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

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 build, then the new suburb will discourage cycling. Without good bike infrastructure, most people will not develop the habit of cycling, let alone encourage and teach their children to do so. 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 a suburb is finished then the problem will be with us for decades.

L Briza maxima. Photo Donald Hobern, Flickr CC BY 2.0
L Briza maxima. Photo Donald Hobern, Flickr CC BY 2.0

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