I always notice the cell phone towers dressed up to look like trees. They stand out from all of the real trees; their poorly executed camouflage draws my attention to them more than if they had just been regular utility poles.

© Dillon Marsh

It’s a mistake spend resources on painting the poles brown and adding fake branches to them. For one, the camouflage isn’t working. More importantly, I think we are treating our infrastructure the wrong way when we try to make it blend into the “natural” surroundings. By creating a simplified, dumbed-down cartoonish version of a real tree, we are demonstrating our lack of understanding about the form and function of real trees. We shouldn’t hide the visual evidence of the collateral damage of our love for cell phones: we should have to confront the fact that we need cell towers all over the place to live like we do. We are more concerned with visual pollution than whether or not there is an actual tree in the place of the tower (again, though, it really looks worse as a fake tree). If the sight of the tower bothers us, we should figure out a way to make having the tower there become a benefit, not resort to ridiculous cover-ups.

If we are going to spend four times the cost of a normal cell tower to create a “natural” version, why don’t we design it to function like “nature” rather than look like what we think “nature” looks like? Why not add features to the tower to create habitat for birds, mammals and insects that a real tree might have provided (if the phone waves don’t kill them)? Why not build in solar panels to collect energy much like the leaves of a tree do with photosynthesis? Or, if we aren’t going to design the thing to function like a tree, can we at least turn it into a more creative object than a fake tree? What if each tower were an opportunity for public sculpture made by a local artist — the $150,000 price tag for the fake plastic tree is plenty of budget for an aspiring artist. Any of these options would be a more mature, intentional and appropriate way to reconcile our relationship to the environment around us.

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