Everything is a “last remaining” at some point.

In 2016, the last remaining journalists still working on London’s “newspaper row”, Fleet Street, left. There are last remaining survivors from moments in history. Last remaining descendants of famous figures. Last remaining businesses in areas once filled with their trade. Newspapers love “last remaining” stories. The articles double the sadness – tributes to whatever is the last remaining, often contain the last words written about it.

No such honor will likely be paid to the last remaining overhead cable at 42 Gyldenløves gate in Oslo, though its presence should not go unnoticed. The disappeared cables are known to the number: seven gone. The empty posts and remaining insulators hold the memory of the eight they once supported.

The replacement cables run beneath the ground at the base of the pole. The the severed remnants of a the overhead wires are clear – an abrupt end to their relevance. Services today demand more than the original wires could offer. Copper only gives so much; fibre optic, so much more. Their updated versions are much safer underground. Protected from the elements, branches, collisions. The old cables never had it as good. Ask the one that remains: Oslo winters can be tough.

With only one cable remaining, the pole’s design is imbalanced. A harmonious equidistant spacing, thick horizontal bars supporting thin vertical posts – that can be appreciated now. Lost is the long geometry of the wires leading the eye down the street.

The lamp exists in a precarious present state – its future is no more certain than the wires that once shared the post. It holds no data sensors, no smart technologies, no next generation lighting solutions. It’s just a light. Upgrades sank the wires. Another one will strip the entire pole down to a more efficient and less history-saddled post. Sensors, high-intensity discharge lamps; somewhere a last remaining street light of this style will go.

The insulators that once performed such a vital service, barrier between post and current, now perform the ritual of memory; a memory of how congested the sky seemed to some, eight wires strung overhead and crowding the short season of warm blue skies. Some delight at the open sky now. Others miss the visuals of their childhood streets. Each to their own.

At one end of this wire is the source, at the other, the destination of its service. Neither is concerned about the aesthetics of delivery over efficiency. At some point when the last wire, insulator and pole disappears, when the “last remaining” no longer remains, the loss of this piece of urban content will matter in a small way. Sentiment rarely extends to the most functional of urban objects. Memories will go along with the last remaining residents to remember the old poles and the wires they once held.

 

This post is an excerpt from my forthcoming book Note of Appreciation, a collection of brief essays celebrating unsung and overlooked urban elements.