The term “urban blight” usually brings to mind a run-down area of a city, a slum. I live in an urban area, North Hudson County, which by most standards doesn’t represent that. But every time I walk out my front door, I am faced with an aspect of urban blight that has gone under the radar screen. It’s been around for many years, and we walk by it without so much as remarking its existence.
Electric power and telephone lines are a blight on our landscape. At my front door, I am greeted by a pole across the street, festooned by cable in coils of various diameters, a transformer housed in a cylinder about a foot in diameter and two feet long, wires strung to neighboring poles in both directions and across the street, and to all the residences, including mine, halfway to the next pole, with the frayed ends of wires going nowhere. Once at a residence, the wire may either enter directly through a hole drilled into the house or be draped along the outside wall, housed in a pipe, until a more convenient entry is reached. More recent installations have the meter affixed to the house at the point of entry. It can be in its own box or exposed, like its former installation in the basement.
In my neighborhood the only area spared these eyesores is Boulevard East, both sides of which are free of utility poles and their wires. There are attractive lamp standards on top of attractive metal poles placed at regular intervals, without visible wiring, which must have been buried.
Why can’t all this stuff be buried?
Raising this question, will, of course, elicit the inevitable cry, “Who’s going to pay for it?”
Beautifying a neighborhood is not on the top of anyone’s to-do list. The cost of it is usually thought of as a given included in the local taxes, and it usually is in the taxes. But we’re talking about a major undertaking. And anyway, if the question was put directly to the residents, they’d reply that the neighborhood is pretty enough.
My wife recently took me on an automobile reconnaissance of our wider environs. Conditions were no better: Some poles had three transformers where wires went to a multifamily house and spreaders kept them separate; in denser neighborhoods, cross arms were affixed to the pole near the top, permitting even more wires.
Can anything be done about it?
Consider what others have done.
Most developed countries have a much larger proportion of buried power lines than we do. They are more affordable in denser communities. In some regions, it’s almost as cheap to bury lines as it is to string them from poles. In these regions it might just be possible to get them buried if there’s a public movement to do it. But until then, we are going to get what our leaders are in the mood to give us and neatness be damned.
Up to this point I have been discussing the visual impact of the utility lines. But another impact results from the maintenance of the lines, which share the street space with trees. Periodically, utility crews trim the trees before they can damage the lines. The work can be done with a minimum of harm; the only branches cut are those sharing the space with the lines, and where continued growth would interfere with the function of the line. But there are instances where no consideration is given the tree, and half the crown is cut away to accommodate the line. This results in appalling aesthetics.
A final concern is power outages resulting from trees falling over power lines during our ever worsening storms. Burying the lines would eliminate this danger.
But as long as it seems that nothing that can be done, we pay the price.