Frank Edgerton Martin’s Streetscapes article (“How Twin Cities architects light our urban areas affects our city’s mood,” March 30) is an informative look at lighting and how it affects the city, but it is missing an important element.
All of Martin’s examples discuss the work of private landowners in consultation with lighting experts. But no one is overseeing the overall effect on the city. As a result we are missing ingredients such as a sense of place, energy efficiency and residential comfort.
Eat Street, on Nicollet Avenue, is a prime example. The lighting between 26th Street and 29th Street is a chaotic mix of overhead lights, street-level pedestrian lights, illuminated trees and light fixtures, outdoor store lights and indoor light pouring onto the street. The lights are blinding to motorists, obscure bicyclists and pedestrians in the street and create blind entrances to parking lots that can cause dangerous interactions between pedestrians on the sidewalks and motorists entering the parking lots.
The lighting is also wasteful. Do we need overhead lights midblock, for example, when they are overwhelmed by all of the other forms of lighting on the street?
Martin also mentions the value of seeing into a building. But the Apple Store in Uptown does more than give a hint of the interior of the store. Its glaring blue light spills onto Hennepin Avenue like an oversized spotlight. Wouldn’t it make sense to balance Apple’s need to draw attention to itself with the needs of other Uptown users and store owners? Wouldn’t Uptown benefit with a more global sense of place created by the interaction of storefronts, streetlights and other sources of light?
The Twin Cities was recently named one of the worst urban areas for migrating birds, and the reason is excessive light pollution. The city depends on voluntary cooperation among building owners to mitigate the problem. Obviously, that isn’t working.
Residential areas are also affected by this lack of oversight. At a time when the American Medical Association warns of the health effects of blue light on Circadian rhythms and device makers are building in the option to convert blue screens to warmer, more sleep-friendly lighting after dark, Xcel Energy is converting every streetlight in the city to powerful, cold blue lights that shine through house and apartment windows like spotlights in a movie studio.
With the advancements in LED lighting technology, we have the opportunity to use lighting in a way that enhances the urban environment of our city and reduces its carbon footprint, in ways that weren’t possible a decade ago. To get there, we have to move beyond our current silo approach. Frank Edgerton Martin and other lighting consultants are the perfect people to initiate a more comprehensive approach to urban lighting.
Doug Shidell, of Minneapolis is publisher of Bikeverywhere.