By Dom Nozzi
There is an “invisible” — yet nevertheless important — quality-of-life issue that communities neglect at their peril. Invisible because it is rarely discussed as a problem.
Light pollution hides the glorious, romantic stars in the night sky. Such pollution degrades wildlife habitat, and creates a frenzied, “anywhere USA” ambience that kills the authentic, quiet and sleepy charm of a community. Light pollution disrupts sleep for countless people in residential areas.
In my opinion, light pollution has become an epidemic in our county because, increasingly, retailers discover that excessive lighting is a handy way to attract the attention of the 40,000 motorists driving by each day on arterials. It is also a convenient way to evade those pesky local sign ordinances. Sign regulations are evaded in this case because excessive lighting allows the retailer to make her/his entire building a sign at night. It is the “building as sign” problem that we often see — especially with chain retailers.
This is done in at least two ways. First, a retailer lights up their building to make the structural elements on the property are so screamingly visible that we are compelled to look.
As an aside, one could make the point that the light pollution problem often worsens when city engages in more effective enforcement of the city sign ordinance.
A number of newer gas stations will use a high canopy over the fueling stations. The bright, glaring lights underneath the canopy makes the place look, in the words of Jim Kunstler, like a “UFO Landing Strip” which can be seen from miles around. Other retailers like to line their exterior walls or parking lots with lights that spill upward and across property lines.
Of course, retailers who are cited for light pollution are usually indignant, and commonly defend their ability to continue polluting. A frequent ploy is to grab the moral high ground on this issue by claiming that the sole purpose of all this excessive lighting is for “public safety,” or the “safety of customers.” It is claimed that the excessive lighting keeps women and children safe from predators (despite the fact that it has been shown that bright lights will create darker shadows where predators can more easily hide, and that glaring lights can cause traffic accidents).
The result is that citizens and decision-makers often look upon those concerned about light pollution as people who are insensitive to public safety.
It is only a coincidence for the retailer that this “safety” lighting happens to make the entire building a glaring billboard to attract customers. We all know that the only reason for the bright lights by our safety-minded retailers is to promote public safety.
Controlling light pollution is an important element in retaining a pleasant ambiance for our towns, not to mention the needs of our wildlife and star-gazing public.
Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.
Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com
My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607
My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:
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