Loving Where We Live, One Power Pole At A Time

Loving Where We Live, One Power Pole At A Time
Posted on 07/01/2016

By Council Member Mike Shelton

I remember as a young boy going to visit my grandparents in Northern Utah. Occasionally we would take a small detour through Brigham City on the way.  We would drive down the beautiful tree-lined main street. We didn't take this route for the trees, but for the variety of creatively painted fire hydrants that lined either side of Main Street.  We looked forward to spotting the little hydrants disguised as characters along our drive. Those little detours have become some of my fondest childhood memories.

If you were to ask most residents of Cottonwood Heights where “Main Street” is in our city, the most common answer would be Fort Union Boulevard. While Fort Union has many beautiful characteristics, if you were to stand at the west entrance to the city and look east, you could not help but notice a forest of enormous power poles.

Our Fort Union “Main Street” may be more visually defined by high capacity power lines than any other city in the valley.

In his book “Love Where You Live” Peter Kageyama describes an urban plight that we in Cottonwood Heights are all too familiar with. Speaking specifically of power lines, he says, “Once they are out in view, it is easy to justify hanging more of them until they loom over us like dour drapes.” 

He continues, “Though we become accustomed to pervasive ugliness in our communities, there is still a psychic and emotional cost to this negativity. We don’t realize it, but such visual cues impact our attitudes towards each other and our work, and our overall feelings about ourselves. Like the ‘broken window theory’ that applies to small, anti-social or criminal behaviors, these small psychic cuts accumulate over time and can bring people and their cities down. Each negative act makes the next easier, and this negative accounting can grow rapidly once it reaches a tipping point.”

Ft UnionIn a manner similar to the accumulating negative acts, Kageyama says we “…can repair our communities one act at a time…I have seen the power of the small thing, the often silly and dismissible idea that makes people smile. There is a game-changing power in these small things.”

We have large power poles running down the length of our “Main Street.” Most of us would prefer not having them there, and we would like them removed, so long as that did not also mean that we lost the electrical power that is delivered over them. We would like to see them buried,but this would come at a significant, almost insurmountable cost.

City staff has explored what we can do to our Fort Union “Main Street” to transform it into a place of city pride. Several interesting ideas have been proposed, such as planting trees beneath the lines to reduce the visual impact.

I believe the city has hit on an idea that I hope will bring the same kind of fond memories to our city that I obtained during my childhood drives down Brigham City’s Main Street. City officials recently approached Rocky Mountain Power with a unique proposal to allow artists to paint the bottom section of the large poles running down Fort Union. Rocky Mountain Power has never allowed this kind of painting before. They are rightly very careful about what they permit to be done with their poles. While appropriate care and maintenance must be maintained, Rocky Mountain Power also wanted to be a positive partner in the community. With appropriate restrictions, they have agreed to allow the city to undertake a project to have artists paint a large number of the poles. We are so grateful for their willingness to let us try.

The city and the Cottonwood Heights Arts Council are beginning a project to solicit submissions from artists to transform what is currently a liability into a community asset. Maybe this is only a small thing; a silly and dismissible idea. Even so, there is “…a game-changing power in these small things.” Small positive things accumulate to make a difference, and great public pride can come from turning lemons into lemonade. 

I am really excited to turn Fort Union Boulevard into a significant outdoor art gallery. We hope that many poles will be painted over time. I hope that someday in the future, people will reminisce about a trip down Fort Union to see the painted poles. Little things, one at a time; that is what we can do.