Telephone poles hold a very specific function integral to the daily lives of modern urban dwellers; they bring power, information and communication to our homes, schools and businesses. They are such an integrated part of the urban landscape, having a recognizable and iconic image often included various mediums of art and design. At the same time these objects are so ingrained into our visual vocabulary that they almost become invisible. Telephone/utility poles are a planned infrastructural element in the city yet there is an unplanned component that represents a social appropriation of city infrastructure. By using telephone/utility poles as an example, I am exploring the relationship between planned elements of urban space with what happens when the people create new and unintended uses to them.
On my block alone there are sixteen tall wooden poles present. While they are certainty not a destination they stand holding space for opinions, requests, invitations and events, services and art. I’m sure my dog could tell of the importance they hold for the urban canine’s orientation. Although the City of Seattle recognizes the importance telephone poles can play in the exchange of information within a community there has been considerable debate between the Supreme Court and the City of Seattle as to how city infrastructure can be used by the public. In spite of ban ordinances, the practice by law-abiding citizens posting material to telephone and utility poles has never wavered.
I would not go as far to say that a neighborhoods character can be judged by the content of it telephone poles, but the postings do represent a sort of collective reflection and representation of a particular community; a reflection of what is acceptable both in opinion and visual effect. Some even become landmarks, giving a community a sense of place and connectivity. Whether they are intentional works of art, a plea for a beloved pet, or an invitation to a church fundraiser telephone and utility poles become places for expression throughout our urban landscape.