You'd hardly know it was 2014 in some American neighborhoods.
No, that's not a photo from the 1960s. It's from 2014, made after the leaves have fallen from the trees, which highlights the subject of the photo, and of this blog post: the overhead powerlines.
As I document the differences I find here from life in southern England, the barren trees have exposed another oddity that didn't seem so stark when I first moved here in late August. Overhead powerlines run from house to house, alongside neighborhood streets in a suburb not that far from the nation's capital. Yet you'd think you were in the Indian subcontinent, where power lines, for those lucky enough to have electricity, are all exposed.
Or maybe in the outer edges of Scotland.
I don't recall seeing overhead powerlines in the leafy suburbs surrounding London. That's because most powerlines are buried. As a result, we rarely lost electricity. In fact, the only time I remember it happening was when workmen were digging in the street above our cul-de-sac. I wrote about it here; it was quite the cultural experience.
There are many reasons why most powerlines in the US are not buried. The cost of burying powerlines over the larger populated geographical areas here is estimated to be in the billions (not just a few billion, either: $41 billion, according to the latest estimate). Power companies don't want to pay for it, despite the costs involved of restoring electricity to their customers when the lines inevitably come down during the frequent storms that hit the American continent. Nor do their customers want higher electricity bills, and are willing, one would assume, to put up with not-so-infrequent power outages.
It's led to those with means installing generators. Our house has a whole-house natural gas generator which I expect we'll use one day. There are lots of trees in this neighborhood, tall trees with limbs just waiting to fall on unsuspecting power lines. And there are multitudes of squirrels who also can damage power lines.
Those retro powerlines represent not just the frugal nature of Americans, and their governments' (both state, local, and federal) unwillingness to impose taxes for the common good, they also represent just how vast and unweildy our suburbs have become. They're strung together with flimsy power cords and poles certain to come down as soon as the next hurricane season gets underway, or the next category four tornado rolls in from the Plains.
Forty-one billion doesn't sound that bad, when you're freezing in an unheated home and watching your frozen food melt. Personally, I'd prefer a more streamlined aesthetic to my neighborhood, even if—especially if—it prevents the squirrels from using powerlines as a method of transport.