Should Trump cover the border wall with solar panels and fine art?

The Associated Press has an interesting look this week at the challenges facing contractors who are considering bidding to participate in construction of the border wall. Some of it is the usual partisan bickering, with groups in both America and Mexico threatening retaliation against any private contractors who dare to “support Trump’s agenda” by seeking to make a profit and working on the wall. (Interestingly enough, one of them is the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico, who said that it would be “treason” to participate.)

But that isn’t stopping everyone. Many contractors have placed bids and some of them are getting really creative. Due to some of the baseline requirements for a bid, combined with the need to make an attractive proposal which might catch the attention of the White House, contractors are coming up with all manner of proposals which include using the wall to generate power, making it a tourist attraction or turning it into a modern art project.

One bidder wants to cover President Donald Trump’s border wall with solar panels. Another suggests building a wall large enough for a deck that would offer tourists scenic views of the desert.

In the competition to build the wall, traditional bids are interspersed with more whimsical ideas.

As Tuesday’s deadline for bids passed, U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to identify bidders or say how many there were, which is standard practice in government contracting. The federal government expects to announce around June 1 which companies will be hired to build prototypes.

The requirements for getting a bid accepted deal with both the design and the contracting firm itself. Some are fairly common sense in nature. The bidder must have experience in the field, having already completed a large scale project (upwards of $25M in value) dealing with a similar effort such as a wall, a roadway or drainage system. As for the design itself, the completed wall must be “able to repel pickaxes and sledgehammers for at least an hour.” That one makes sense. On a somewhat more vague note, the proposed design must be, “aesthetically pleasing from the north side.”

When you start using phrases like “aesthetically pleasing” you open the door to all manner of suggestions. One contractor proposes building it out of, “polished concrete…augmented with stones and artifacts that are tailored to different sections of the border.” Another wants to include observations platforms where tourists can climb to the top and take in the view to the south. Making it look nice and keeping to a local theme seems acceptable, I suppose, providing it doesn’t drive the cost up too much. But you immediately run into questions of what sort of “art” is going to be pleasing to so many diverse visitors. As for observation decks, we’ve read before about the dangers that maintenance workers encounter when working on the current fence, including being randomly shot at from across the border. Do we really want tourists up there acting like a 21st century turkey shoot for Mexican drug traffickers?

The solar panel idea is interesting if the panels are on the north side. They probably wouldn’t look all that bad and many of the proposals include provisions for cameras and permanent lighting on both sides. Solar isn’t all that reliable in general, but you get a lot of sunny days in the southwest, so if we can defray maintenance costs for utilities, it might be worth looking at.

As to the aesthetics question, I’m just not so sure. I don’t picture the wall as being “pretty” even from our side. It should be imposing… daunting… perhaps even “forbidding.” A plain, tall, gray barrier which discourages people from attempting to attack it or cross it sounds right to me. We have plenty of other palaces for art displays.