Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Undergrounding is good for the psyche

What do the three photos on the right have in common besides being from my recent trip to Berlin, Denmark, the Netherlands?

The answer: No overhead utilities.

You may not have noticed because you are blind to wires, poles and transformers on our own littered streets and highways. You automatically screen them out of your vision using some internalized mental Photoshop.

Since we no longer "see" such clutter, what’s the big deal?

I contend that whether we know it or not, when our view is free of such intrusions, we recognize that freedom subconsciously. We are more in tune with our environment, as we are when we view the European photos.

Admittedly it’s an unfair comparison, but take stock of your psyche looking at the European photos and then tune into your feelings when you look at the streetscape below of Capitol Highway in Hillsdale.

You don’t have to go to Europe to have the wire-free experience. When the City of Portland wants to bury utility wires, it does. Just visit the Pearl District or downtown.

We need a program here for undergrounding utilities in the places outside of downtown where wires, transformers and poles are most obvious.

I nominate Hillsdale, a Metro-designated Town Center, a pedestrian district and a Portland-anointed Main Street District, to go to the top of the list. The cost would be somewhere north of $2 million. The money should come from city-imposed utility franchise fees.

The utilities that litter our urban landscapes should pay to clean up the mess.

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