Friday, June 19, 2009

Beauty == Utility

Storm Damage in Overton Park

The only voice of opposition at the Land Use Control Board's affirmative vote on the Unified Development Code a few weeks ago came from Memphis Light Gas & Water.The utility had a problem with several sections of the code, especially
A. New electric utility services shall be placed underground where functionally feasible...
(section 5.3.4)

I seem to remember the MLG&W rep stating that the aesthetics of the code would be a drag on functionality for utilities. A utility's utilitarian argument.

Yet the mass disruptions whipped up by last weekend's storms (mostly by trees and branches falling on above-grade power lines) and the historic storm data exposed by this NOAA map (hat tip Naomi)

show the impracticality of this opposition. Storms will cross the Mississippi, branches will fall from the sky, above-ground electric lines will get knocked out. But happily, safely, beautifully, increasingly buried electric lines will keep on humming.

Good aesthetics in tree-rich, storm-happy Memphis is good utility.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Begin Again with Trees

Memphis Botanic GardenIf you were alive in the Paris of Louis XIV, the impression of these new boulevards and avenues would be of a tremendous formalizing of nature, rather than of urbanization. The chief device, the parallel rows of trees was a fairly easy way to achieve stunning monumental effects and perspectives with little actual material and labor. These abstract diagrammatic schemes signified little beside the kings' ability to make a rural landscape orderly --something he clearly relished. However, when they finally were developed with buildings decades later, the boulevards and avenues of Louis XIV would become templates for the best of the Second Empire's new street typologies, and they remain models for excellent street sections into our time.
The City in Mind,
James Howard Kunstler
(emphasis mine)

Making ordered rows of great Memphis native trees could be the first, relatively easy step toward retrobeautifying our problematic ugly avenues and boulevards. Even -- especially -- in commercial districts.

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