Why Are Utilities So Ugly?

A landscape architect in Tucson shares a professional lament: intrusive, ugly utilities.

1 minute read

October 6, 2016, 12:00 PM PDT

By Elana Eden

Electricity Pylon

Nufkin / Flickr

Over the last decade or so, Ellen Barth Alster has noticed a trend in her county's electrical infrastructure: It’s getting uglier.

The landscape architect for the Department of Transportation in Pima County, Arizona, Alster makes clear on The Field that this is an indignity to the region’s cherished desert environment.

Where once utility infrastructure took care not to detract from the beauty of their natural surroundings, now, she writes, "aesthetics are given a passing nod, at best, in facility design." As a result, dark steel poles taller than any building have become "the most prominent landscape feature" on the open horizon. 

She explains:

Local regulations written a decade ago have not kept pace with how massive the structures and facilities have become … Meanwhile, it’s a struggle to get communication providers to comply with the minimum of code requirements: siting for less visual impact, selecting environmentally compatible colors, replacing vegetation that will be impacted.

To gauge the extent of this trend anecdotally, Alster poses a few open questions to fellow professionals. Chief among them:

Are newer, larger power poles in your area being designed with visual compatibility issues in mind? Or are they becoming a dominant skyline feature?

The post is peppered with photos that clearly illustrate the contrast between tasteful utility poles to those that intrude on the protected desert landscape.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016 in ASLA's The Field

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