The invisible overhead landscape…. Jacob Millard, 2003
landscape not only describes land, buildings, roads, biological life, and
culture but also a system of infrastructure that has been engineered to support
human values. Some of this
infrastructure is hidden, buried underground, but some is very exposed though
often goes unseen. It is the web of
electric, telephone and cable wires that have been cast over our urban space.
homes and work places and even some of our busses and trains are tethered to
this web. The web runs our buildings lights and our homes refrigerators. It allows us to communicate with one another
without moving. It runs our traffic
lights and supports our traffic signs.
It stretches along and across almost every street in this countrys
urban landscape creating a transparent, but very real, ceiling above the
streets we travel.
web is supported by a grid of poles, wires, and fasteners. Together, the wires and poles imply a tent
covering our streetscapes under which we drive, bike, walk and run. The supporting poles are made of wood or
metal and, though they primarily support the mess of wires above, they also
offer a place to hang signs and put lights.
Wooden poles are dipped in creasote and tar to prevent their rot and
buried into the earth and secured by poured concrete. The poles, like their natural counterparts
(trees), eventually get old and fall over.
We use fasteners and wires to shore them up and prevent their premature
demise. Metal poles are fastened to the
earth by industrial sized lug nuts (Ive never seen a metal pole leaning over,
threatening to fall). These poles offer
a second, probably unintended, function to society. They are places for people to post messages:
cities post official signs, opportunistic businesses use them to advertise, and
individuals and groups use them to post announcements of sales and events.
So why, if
so many of us rely on this web and the functions that it supports, does it go
so unnoticed? Perhaps because of its
relative transparency or because of its ubiquitous presence in the landscape or
perhaps its because we dont look up enough.