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Detail from The Colours of Vancouver - a series for the V-Pole by Douglas Coupland.


Vancouver is stepping briskly toward a high-tech future featuring a whiz-bang street pole designed to do everything from charging cars to providing WiFi service.

As city council explores V-Pole technology, which combines light, communication and transportation service in street fixtures, Telus has launched a $1-million project that brings aspects of the idea to the West End.

The Vancouver park board this week approved a Telus plan to build three so-called "monopoles" in the city's West End that would allow Vancouverites to charge their electric vehicles and bolster wireless service. Telus spokesman Shawn Hall said the project involving the monopoles, which are smaller than a light standard, appears to be a first of its kind.

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On Tuesday, council passed a motion that asked staff to look at the practicality of the concept, citing increased demand for cellular infrastructure as well as growing interest in electric vehicles. "The V-Poles are a fascinating idea, but the technology to create them doesn't exist," Mr. Hall said. "[The monopoles] would be a move in that direction."

The concept of V-Poles – which Mayor Gregor Robertson says originated with Vancouver author and artist Douglas Coupland – would offer the same as the systems being installed by Telus, but also a more sophisticated bundle of services that would include WiFi. All of the options would be offered by multiple carriers.

In May, at the New Cities Summit in Paris, Mr. Coupland outlined his ideas for V-Poles, with the "V" referring to Vancouver.

He described slim utility poles connected to underground, optical wiring that would provide neighbourhoods with a menu of services. Beyond WiFi, mobile wireless and electric vehicle charging, they would offer LED street lighting, process parking transactions and act as an electronic neighbourhood bulletin board. Mr. Coupland said the concept would clear clutter from the streets.

"Whether walking or driving or biking, you'd say, 'This city does not have a lot of crap everywhere,'" he said in an interview.

Mr. Robertson has been supportive of the idea, calling V-Poles "an example of future-driven design for cities that we are excited to see."

"I'm glad my motion passed today for city hall to explore and pursue new street technology opportunities like the V-Pole," he said in a statement on Tuesday.

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The motion also included a council request for staff to seek out pilot projects with the telecommunications, lighting and electric-vehicle industries to "test and implement innovative technologies using city infrastructure like streetlight poles."

The measure was supported across council by Vision Vancouver and the Green Party, with only Non-Partisan Association councillors George Affleck and Elizabeth Ball voting against it. Mr. Affleck said he was concerned about the city overreaching on the idea when it should be handled entirely by the private sector.

Telus is expecting to complete the three "monopole" units along Beach Street at Bute, Broughton and Bidwell streets by the end of 2012. Telus will lease the sites for $35,000 a year for 20 years.

Parks commissioner Sarah Blyth, a member of Vision Vancouver, said the plan is aimed at bolstering energy options and communications for the public. The initiative, she said, is in sync with interest in electric vehicles. B.C. is expected to have one of North America's highest adoption rates for such vehicles, and Vision has set a goal of at least 15 per cent of new vehicle sales being low carbon by 2020.

"We're starting to prepare to meet that demand," Ms. Blyth said in an interview. "It's really a move into the future. We're trying to move Vancouver to be a more sustainable city."

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