We came to Darwin at the beginning of 1987 and moved into our home in Leanyer. During the ensuing years I’ve had the chance to observe the way in which the Northern Suburbs in particular and other suburbs in general have evolved and developed.

The nature and the appearance of most Darwin suburbs has changed significantly in that time. Sadly, most of those changes have not been for the better.

In recent years, the spotlight in terms of suburban development has been on Lyons, Muirhead, and new developments at Berrimah. There are pockets of development occurring elsewhere but more generally as enclaves within already established suburbs.

While development and opening up new residential areas is to be lauded, it’s a shame that maintenance of environment, visual appearance and general upkeep in older suburbs has been seemingly neglected.

I am not commenting on security and the need people have to protect their homes which has surely delivered us the reputation of being the most fenced city in Australia. That goes with unfortunate social developments in this place. However there are significant issues that really need to be looked at.

Nature strips, verges and the state of vegetation adjacent to properties in the majority of cases is deplorable. There is very obviously a distinct lack of care about the way in which these areas are looked after.

While homeowners and occupiers need to take some responsibility for this “common” land, scarcely any maintenance is undertaken by the council. It would be good if some priority could be given to home owners/occupiers and the council working in conjunction to uplift nature strips.

I would suggest a recognition of home owners maintaining well kept verges. The offer of plants and topsoil as a council contribution of homeowners for taking pride in their nature strips might help. So too might some competition top recognise the efforts of people going the extra mile in care and maintenance.

Cyclone Markus revealed the poor management of vegetation in our city. It’s become obvious the treeplanting in past times has not been carefully undertaken with the growth of plants in mind.

The result has been “canopy crowding“ with trees being forced to grow into each other. The result has been deformed canopy development and trees pushed out of a proper growing perspective. The many ‘leaning’ trees with unnaturally shaped canopies confirm this to be the case.

When trees are planted they should be spaced in a way that will cause them not to grow into each other as they mature. This obviously hasn’t been considered in the past. Regular pruning is necessary to shape the trees and thinning should be undertaken if they have been planted too closely together.

The difference between Darwin. and some other cities (Adelaide is the best example) is that once they are planted and initially watered to encourage growth , no further care of these trees is undertaken. The state of vegetation all over the city and suburbs confirms this to be the case.

Many palm trees in public places have grown to the point of being totally unsightly. The program to replace palms after a given number of years would be worthwhile.

Not only are many of these palms unsightly but in time will break off in strong winds and become a hazard. This already happens periodically but the problem will worsen as the palms are allowed to grow to excessive heights.

Another matter that should be considered is that allowing trees to take over in the way that is happening, is a potential threat to suburbs through possible bushfire danger. While our fire control procedures in the Northern Territory, particularly in relation to urban areas are second to none, there was always a chance of a fire getting away and creating havoc. The green canopy over many of Darwin suburbs could well result in a catastrophic fire event of the future.

The management of vegetation is overdue for attention. It needs to become a major item for budget consideration and ongoing funding.

A matter of concern in the older, more established suburbs has to be the number of vacant houses that seem to be proliferating. A casual drive around confirms this to be the case.

While housing ownership and allocation is not a prerogative belonging to the City of Darwin Council, the impact of vacant and deteriorating properties impacts upon the area under local government control. Many of these properties are highly visible and look absolutely awful.

One of the things I cannot understand is why on the one hand there is talk about long waiting lists for housing, when on the other, vacant properties exist in quite large numbers. While the matter may be one not openly canvassed it poses an interesting juxtaposition.

These are issues that deserve consideration and attention.

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