Douglas Coupland invents V-poles to revolutionize utility poles of Vancouver

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

It's high time someone updated the old-school utility pole. Douglas Coupland, the Vancouver novelist and visual artist, calls his concept the V-pole. V for Vancouver, of course.

It's not quite a reality yet, but could be if Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has his way.

The modular V-pole combines wireless Internet service and mobile phone signals from multiple carriers with electric vehicle charging, parking meter and even an interactive electronic touch screen, all topped by an LED streetlamp that aims downward to minimize light pollution.

The V-pole, about the same size as a telephone pole, uses technology called lightRadio, developed by Bell Labs and Alcatel-Lucent to allow multiple services in a single unit.

[Related: Muskoka cell phone towers to be disguised as trees ]

Coupland, who invented the term Generation X in his 1991 novel and created the Terry Fox Memorial outside Vancouver's B.C. Place Stadium, unveiled his creation at the New Cities Summit in Paris last month with Robertson standing beside him.

"Vancouver is a leader in urban innovation and we are always looking at ways to stay on the sharpest edge of technology," Robertson said at the time. "The V-Pole is an example of future-driven design for cities that we are excited to see."

Vancouver deputy city manager Sahdu Johnston explained it further.

"You could pay for parking, you could pay for electric vehicle charging, that kind of thing," he told the National Post.

Vancouver has more than 100 cellphone towers operated by five different carriers, Johnston said.

"We've been seeing an almost exponentially growing demand for data," said Johnston. "So, we've been trying to find a way to integrate cell phone infrastructure into the urban landscape in a way that does not detract from the aesthetic and view qualities of the city."

V-poles could be a cost-saver, replacing multiple cell towers with one and providing a location for electric car charging stations the B.C. government has promised.

But that doesn't mean the multi-coloured poles will start sprouting around Vancouver anytime soon.

In fact, phone giant Telus has stolen a march on Coupland's vision, getting the Vancouver Park Board's approval to install three so-called monopoles along Beach Avenue, which runs beside picturesque English Bay in the city's West End. The monopoles combine electric car chargers with mobile phone network infrastructure, the Vancouver Sun reported.

Telus spokesman Shawn Hall called the project "very cool," adding the pilot project will be first of its kind anywhere.

The $1-million project got support from most neighbourhood residents who responded to a park board survey, spokeswoman Joyce Courtney told the Sun. However, some opposed the new poles over health concerns and because they looked ugly.

You can count Coupland in the latter group. On Twitter he dubbed the 29-foot-high poll "the lint roller."

OpenFile blogger Mike Aynsley said you can't compare the monopole with Coupland's concept.

"The Telus monopole is like the iPhone 3 and Coupland's V-Pole is the not-yet-released iPhone 5," he said.

Meanwhile, Vancouver city council passed a motion for its staff to look for technology pilot projects, such as the V-pole, to reduce the infrastructure clutter on streets.