When the announcement about the City of Detroit bankruptcy hit the news last week, one of the main points about how tough things had become in the city was that nearly half of the city's street lights don't work. Naturally, this caught my attention! How long has it been this way? Why? Are there sections of the city that have been deliberately switched off, or are they just eliminating lighting maintenance, leaving lights out all over town as they fail? Is this actually a bad thing? Or have they found that the lights were unnecessary and that living without them is fine?
Here's what I learned:
Detroit is deliberately reducing its street lighting load. It is not, however, the only city turning off lights to save money! Other municipalities who have opted to save energy and money by reducing street lighting include Colorado Springs, CO, Santa Rosa, CA, Rockford, IL, and Upper Dublin Township in Montgomery County, PA to name just a few.
Not everyone thinks turning off the street lights is a bad idea. In fact, there are some who say that turning off street lights is plain old fashioned smart. Consider the positions of the International Dark Sky Association or the 2008 National Geographic article, Our Vanishing Night.
Even though academic research shows no significant evidence to link street lighting with reduced crime, the general public seems to associate street lighting with safety. There is also no doubt that lighting can improve pedestrian and bicyclist visibility and can reduce automobile crashes in accident-prone areas.
I wonder if there is a better solution? Perhaps better car headlights? Or streetlights that come on only when people are present? How can we use technology to save people and the planet, too?
It's another cloudy, snowy day here in St. Louis, and I'm longing for summer! That got me looking through some pictures from back in June, and I decided to share these two with you just for fun.
See the pole going straight up into the middle of this tree?
There's a light at the top of it!
Not much light reaches the ground, though...
Have a great weekend, be well, and create beauty!
Vincent Van Gogh is quoted, "I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day."
I just finished reading In Praise of Shadows by Jun' ichiro Tanizaki, first published in Japan in 1933 and 1934. It is a thought-provoking look at electric light as an intrusion on daily life and traditions. It eloquently presents the perspective of a novelist - not an artist or a lighting designer or an architectural professional - on light. He makes a solid case for the enhanced beauty of materials such as lacquer and gold leaf in the shadows where even a frail glimmer of light generates a vibrant sparkle, as opposed to bright light, where luster is totally flattened. He laments, "So benumbed are we nowadays by electric lights that we have become utterly insensitive to the evils of excessive illumination." One example he cites, "people will light the lights, then switch on an electric fan to combat the heat. The very thought annoys me."
Fast forward eighty years.
We have now illuminated most of the inhabited planet, some of it beautifully, other bits garishly. For whatever reason we seldom pause to appreciate the dark but are drawn to light like moths to flame, myself included. Since reading In Praise of Shadows I will accept Tanizaki's challenge (and Van Gogh's) to find the richness and beauty in darkness. As a lighting designer I will do my part to keep the stars visible so that I, my children, and the generations to come can see them...and dream.
Van Gogh also said, "For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream."
As promised, here are my IES Conference notes! If you missed the Conference in Minneapolis two weeks ago, you missed a good one. If you were there, feel free to add comments about the seminars and paper sessions you attended.
For me, the Conference began on Saturday when we hosted 40 students and emerging lighting professionals with a full day of topics designed just for them. We toured an award-winning U of M campus building, had portfolio reviews, and gave everyone time to "speed network" with all kinds of lighting professionals. Our opening keynote speaker is an emerging professional herself - Maja Petric shared her inspirational use of light in her art. Her most architectural work used LED light to pour through cracks in a tunnel ceiling to illuminate the inside of the tunnel. The color temperature and intensity of the light changes throughout the day to mirror the current outdoor light conditions. See that project and more of her beautiful work here. It was her work that inspired me to post this.
When the Conference-proper kicked off on Sunday, we danced the night away to the delightful sounds of Stefan Graf's lighting industry band, Black Body Locusts. Special thank you's go to Naomi Miller for writing hilarious lighting lyrics for the band to sing and to Lance Bennett / Cooper Lighting for sponsoring the band!
The next day the dean of the University of Minnesota School of Design, Thomas Fisher, challenged us to not just problem solve, but problem seek. Design thinking is valuable beyond the making of things. He even wondered if universities should be restructured - not around disciplines, but around world challenges. In this format, the iterative process of abductive reasoning could be put to work: seeing connections between things that are seemingly different. Who knows the discoveries that would follow? Are we defining our industry correctly? Is it lighting? Or perhaps we are in the human productivity business? This led the way for professor Blaine Brownell to describe the lighting immersion project created by his architectural students. They gather all kinds of materials and, working in teams, build a light of some kind. Some of the projects make statements, some are portable, some explore the idea of light as an object that occupies space rather than illuminating it. All of these projects are unexpected and creative. For more from Blaine Brownell, start here then read one of his books.
Next I attended the "LIGHT+ SENIORS Symposium Summary and Review." All I can say is - wow - am I ever sorry I missed the symposium! The Summary and Review was so full of information that I'll revisit this one later in a blog post all its own.
If I thought I was mentally saturated before the "Smart Lighting - Beyond Ordinary" session, I certainly was afterward. This future-casting session covered everything from the invention of LED to synthetic LED skylights (light + video) to the use of blue light "patches" for pain therapy (light + medicine) and of course, the new hue LED from Philips sold in your local Apple store (light + apps.) Light carries information. Imagine one day using our light sources instead of broadband... It's all about the fusion of lighting and other disciplines. Are you catching the theme? The whole conference theme of synapses and connections was repeated through many sessions where interdisciplinary interaction was lauded and encouraged.
Monday night's entertainment was a private screening of the documentary The City Dark. It was fun seeing some of our very own IES Conference attendees (Howard Brandston) on the big screen. The movie itself pits lighting on earth against the night sky's fading natural lights and challenges us to balance the two. Heavy.
The next morning's keynote speaker was Mark Major who picked up the dark sky theme with excerpts from a National Geographic article on Light Pollution. What should we be more afraid of? The dark? Or what we are doing to the night? The work of Speirs + Major is always breathtaking, and hearing this one presentation was worth every penny I spent on the entire conference.
In the next session, I was privileged to introduce my fellow KU alumnus, Zachary Suchara, who spoke on human factors in lighting. When was the last time you considered your humanity as it relates to lighting? Humans are phototropic. Exactly how we experience light varies based on where we live on the planet. Zach had many other fascinating points including this one: In the past 20 years, there have been more new lamp types developed than in all the other years of human history put together. He closed the session with a great case study in which the developers exploited the human factor by turning the building systems into a game. Tenants in the building actually compete with each other to see who can use the least energy. It reminded me a little of watching the gauges on our Toyota Prius to see how many miles per gallon we can get per trip.
The Conference included many more papers, some political pundits, the always-popular Progress Committee presentation, a wonderful Illumination Awards dinner, other Society Awards, and lots of networking. For me, it was one of the best IES Conferences ever. How about for you?
Lisa J. Reed, lighting designer and Principal at Envision Lighting Design, LLC