Wednesday, November 19, 2008

More blight arrives in the Hillsdale Town Center

Today, walking down to Hillsdale’s commercial center, I noticed that workers were piggy-backing technological bric-a-brac on one of our utility poles again.

We have wires, barrel-sized transformers, defunct wireless cones and now — what?

Cell phone antennae of course. After I took this photo, workers attached a large equipment box the size of a three-drawer filing cabinet to the pole.


Of course, each of the several cell phone companies has to have its very own antenna.

Call it antenna envy.

Our Hillsdale commercial center is what Metro, the Portland-area regional government, has designated a “Town Center.”

Hence “the Hillsdale Town Center.”

The idea is to make the Town Centers pedestrian-friendly so that people walk to shops, schools and buses and leave their polluting cars at home.

Several of us believe that making our Town Center pedestrian-friendly involves making it attractive to walk around in. Actual sidewalks would be nice too.

We have street trees, although I noticed today that the one next to the new antenna-ized utility pole looks seriously stressed.

And some of us have actually had the audacity to propose undergrounding the utilities. No more poles, wires, transformers and, yes, cell phone antennae. The powers that be manage to bury all this stuff downtown, in South Waterfront and in the Lloyd and Pearl districts.

Why not here?

Could it have something to do with politics?

I’ve worked on and off for 15 years on the undergrounding issue. I used to joke that my goal was to see utilities in the Town Center undergrounded before I’m undergrounded.

It’s a joke no longer.

The “City that Works” needs to start working on undergrounding. A decade ago some of us, representing varied interests, including the utilities, suggested that fees should be placed on new technologies like cell phones (they were new back then). If they used the public right-of-way, they ponied up to mitigate the blight. The revenues would pay for undergrounding in Town Centers like Hillsdale.

Vera Katz was mayor at the time we made our report with its funding proposal. She assured us our suggesting would not gather dust on a shelf.

But that is exactly where it is today. While the dust gathers, the antennae and overhead wire blight spread throughout the City. And my own personal undergrounding becomes more real with each passing year.

On a brighter note. Clearly Hillsdale's pigeons are pleased with things the way they are.

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Blogger t.a. said...

Rick, is there anything going on re: undergrounding? it's something that has been on my mind a while, and if the state does move to address issues of infrastructure, that would be the perfect time to move towards getting wires, etc, out of our views. other cities have managed to do it, cities bigger more wiry than Pdx will ever be.


7:36 PM  
Blogger Rick Seifert said...

The short answer is "no" (at least that I know of).

Nothing will happen unless those of us who care about this aerial blight step up to stop it.

The list of infrastructure needs is long. The best hope for undergrounding is to link it to other improvements. When the city tears up a street, underground utilities. When a sidewalk is widened or built, underground. When a new water line goes in, underground.

Require that all new buildings and subdivisions underground utilities.

Of course the assumption is that either state or federal stimulus dollars will be available for public works.

Otherwise you need other sources of funding. We could take another run at establishing an undergrounding district in Hillsdale. That requires a vote and, yes, a modest tax on our utility bills.

The last time we did this, a modest majority approved. The City Council rejected the vote saying that the majority was too small to be considered a mandate, especially since the measure involved a tax.

Or we could push again for part of the utility franchise fees' being dedicated to undergrounding in Town Centers. The City Council doesn't like that because if takes money from the general fund.

An admittedly radical approach would for Hillsdale to take the "Town Center" label at its word and become a real, autonomous town. With a population of 8,000, we have enough warm, sentient bodies to make it happen.

But do we have the will?

8:42 PM  

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