Green Gazette op ed by Ann Christenson

The Green Gazette – 03/04/2016 – A06

Consider functional public art that reflects Iowa City values

As Iowa City’s leaders and many citizens are working hard to make our community a leader in sustainability, members of 100 Grannies for a Livable Future are baffled that in the selection of an art piece for the pedestrian mall, there seems to have been no environmental considerations.

The money that had been requested for ‘The Lens,’ proposed for Black Hawk Mini Park, could be put to better use, for instance in a project that reflects local values and creativity.

On behalf of 100 Grannies, I propose the type of sculpture I saw in Bristol, England, a few weeks ago. It is a wonderful Energy Tree, constructed with multidirectional solar panels for ‘leaves’ and eight ‘roots’ that! enclose power points for recharging mobile phones. Bristol was the European Union’s Green Capital City last year, the first with that designation in the UK.

The Bristol Energy Tree is described as ‘a public art installation and renewable power source designed to engage the public in energy issues.’ Its construction in Bristol’s central Millennium Square (similar to our pedestrian mall but larger) combined ‘community collaboration, artistic excellence, science and grass-roots energy activism in a unique project.’ The solar cells were made from recycled fragments of broken panels that would otherwise have gone to waste. The collaboration included recovering drug and alcohol abusers who learned in workshops to fabricate the solar panels. Besides free phone charging, the 20-foot tree offers Wi-Fi. The designer and builder of the tree was John Packer, a local artist.

We propose that i! nstead of ‘The Lens,’ this community get behind an Energy Tree. It could be funded through private donations, sponsorships and possibly grants.

The Energy Tree is a functional art piece that can be accomplished at far less cost than ‘The Lens.’ The Bristol Energy Tree cost £70,000, or $97,600.

Perhaps a design competition could be held. The winning design could become a special project for engineering students at the University of Iowa. Perhaps it could be directed by former UI artist and professor Anthony Castronono, whose awardwinning solar sculptures, in cluding the ‘After Trillium’ solar flower at the Iowa River Landing, have drawn national attention.

Social services clients or at-risk youth taught by Kirkwood instructors could handle panel fabrication. School children could be involved throug! h lessons on energy.

We invite those readers who view the Energy Tree as a desirable alternative to ‘The Lens’ to contact Iowa City Council members to voice your support.

For more information on Bristol’s Solar Tree, go to www.demandenergyequality. org/energy-tree-2015.html. The site includes a five-minute video on planning and construction.

• Ann Christenson of Iowa City is a founding member of 100 Grannies for a Livable Future. Comments:


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