Guest opinion: Proposal for Ped Mall art


 As Iowa City’s leaders and many citizens are working hard to make our community a leader in sustainability, members of 100Grannies 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 Lens, weighing in at $500,000 and proposed for Black Hawk Mini Park, seems a considerable amount of money that could be put to better use, for instance in a project that reflects local values and creativity.

On behalf of 100Grannies, I propose, instead, 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.

As many of you know, 100Grannies members are mourning the recent death of our remarkable founder and leader, Barbara Schlachter. As we began brainstorming to identify a suitable permanent, visionary memorial to Barbara, the Energy Tree crossed our path. 

The Bristol 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 (very similar to our Ped Mall but much larger) combined “community collaboration, artistic excellence, science, and grass-roots energy activism in a unique project.”

The community 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 Bristol artist.

We propose that instead of The Lens, this community get behind a more suitable alternative, an Energy Tree to honor Barbara, a heroic woman who touched many people in many ways, both in Iowa City across the nation. It is our hope that funding will be achieved through private donations and sponsorships. 

The Energy Tree would be a functional art piece that can be accomplished at far less cost than The Lens, probably well under $100,000.

The solar cells are made from recycled fragments of broken panels that would otherwise have gone to waste. Perhaps a design competition could be held. The winning design could become a UI engineering school special arts and engineer project, perhaps directed by former University of Iowa artist and Professor Anthony Castronono, whose award-winning solar sculptures, including 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 through lessons on energy.

We invite those readers who view the Energy Tree as a desirable alternative to The Lens to join us at the City Council Tuesday at7 p.m., where we will introduce this proposal.

For more information on Bristol’s Energy Tree, go to The site includes a five-minute video on planning and construction. 

Ann Christenson of Iowa City is a founding member of 100Grannies for a Livable Future

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