Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sacrificing Beauty

In their efforts to preserve the aesthetics of their community under the looming threat of renewable energy, the folks over at Cleveland’s city council may be ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater.’ In their haste to get in front of the potential problems a new energy infrastructure might entail, they maybe be crippling our ability to keep our way of life. OK, that’s a bit strong, but let me go on.

Ostensibly, Cleveland city council wants to make sure that their new wind farms don’t become a ‘visual nuisance’ or ‘unsafe.’ They think, and I quote the reporter: “…civic beauty should not be sacrificed on the altar of sustainability.” (April 15, 2009) Cleveland proposes ordinance to regulate aesthetics and safety of wind turbines - Arts - In truth, they may be merely trying to stop a form of energy they just don’t like.

Let’s take the safety issue first: It’s laudable that Cleveland (and many other communities mentioned in the article) city council should ensure the safety of newly placed wind turbines given the horrific results of many other forms of energy production. For several generations energy production has poisoned our air, water, and ground. But, isn’t safety the bailiwick of engineers? Adequately train the engineers in green technology so that the blades don’t fall off or the turbines aren’t placed in a bird migration corridor and things will be just fine. Though annoying to some people, a badly placed wind turbine is not like placing a nuclear plant on a fault line, or a mountain-top removal site upwind of a children’s school.

Now the ‘visual nuisance’ thing: I can appreciate that a planning board of a large city would want the advice of professional architects to make sure something as tall and striking as a wind turbine or even a wind farm would fit into what is perceived by the political and business elite as the visual beauty of their city. But, should their guiding principle be to place Beauty over Sustainability? Does this even make sense?

Admittedly, it’s a great line, indicative of Hollywood and even Keats: “Civic beauty should not be sacrificed on the altar of sustainability.” How many films have our eyes moisten at the sight of Beauty, rather than be compromised or besmirched, perishes in a conflagration of perversity? And, John Keats’s immortal line:” Truth is beauty and Beauty truth, that is all you know and all that you need to know." Beauty, as Truth--as say, physical comeliness, a great enduring principle, as a skyline—who would want them sacrificed to anything? Great line.

But, think about the absurdity of this position: Beauty should trump our future, our way of life. For, if you continue to base your future on an energy mode that is unsustainable, (like coal or nuclear) by definition that means it goes kaput. If you have a phantom economy instead of a sustainable one, you get a Recession.

Sustainability for a planning board, a politician, a citizen, even an architect should be their Holy Grail, a Beauty for which all should be willing to sacrifice on any altar. If something is not sustainable, it ends. Period. Sustainability is Beauty; you cannot sacrifice your future and be there to appreciate it too.

No comments: