5G towers in historic neighborhoods

This story appeared in the March issue of PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door monthly? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!

The Preservation Resource Center is closely monitoring requests by telecommunications companies to put new pole-mounted “small cell” transmitters in neighborhoods across the city to enable access to 5G wireless for smartphone users. The PRC is working with city officials and the Vieux Carré Property Owners and Residents Association (VCPORA) to assess the potential impact of these installations in our historic neighborhoods.

Signals emitted from small-cell transmitters do not penetrate walls, and so the devices are meant to serve smartphone users on streets and sidewalks. Given our vibrant street culture and strolling tourists, New Orleans is a prime target for cellular carriers vying for 5G bragging rights. The necessary poles can be as tall as 50 feet, which is almost twice as tall as a typical Creole cottage or shotgun house, making the installation of these devices in neighborhoods like the French Quarter worrisome. Additionally, if each carrier requests to install their own poles, it is likely that there will be new poles on every block — sometimes every street corner — if their placement isn’t properly regulated. Some cities have encouraged their placement on existing streetlights.

The PRC has been invited to participate in required Section 106 reviews of small-cell tower placement in portions of Central City, the Lower Garden District, the Garden District and Uptown. (Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 requires federal agencies to consider a project’s potential effect on historic properties.) So far, PRC’s feedback has led carriers to move pole locations, to locate equipment on existing poles and avoid damage to historic streetscapes. PRC will continue to work with our allies and with the telecom industry to review placement of poles; encourage multiple carriers to utilize one pole whenever possible; and to set a high standard of pole design, particularly in the Vieux Carré, so that modern technology blends in more with the neighborhood’s tout ensemble.

Danielle Del Sol is the Executive Director of the Preservation Resource Center.