Shine the right light on the places in your community
Proper lighting brings out people and highlights places in your community which can generate economic activity and save your community money.
February 4, 2012 - Author: Glenn Pape, Michigan State University Extension
Every community has lighting in its public places. Tall and powerful yellow lights are the most common and cheapest way to illuminate intersections, streets and parking lots. They also create a harsh, inhuman lighting that discourages pedestrian activity and contribute to light pollution and light trespass.
Discouraging pedestrian activity has a serious impact on place and prosperity. The safest and most prosperous places are those with high levels of pedestrian activity, day and night. To create safe, attractive places at night the illumination has to be correct. The safest urban environments are those that attract pedestrians with human-scale lighting, full-spectrum and low-wattage lamps on short poles. Lamp wattages of no more than 150 watts mounted on a pole less than 15 feet tall are shown to be most effective. Increasing lighting levels should be achieved by increasing the number of lights not the output and height. This costs more but creates a pedestrian-friendly environment instead of a ghostly moonscape found with large-scale light fixtures.
Lighting also serves to focus activity levels where you want it in your community. In urban areas and retail areas, lights should be frequent and functional with fixtures every 30 feet. This supports nighttime activity and increases the quality of place and economic impact. In residential areas and the suburbs, lights can be limited to intersections only, but again at a human scale to prevent light trespass and disruption of sleep patterns. Light trespass occurs when unwanted light enters one's property. A common light trespass problem occurs when a strong light enters the window of one's home from the outside, causing problems such as sleep deprivation or the blocking of an evening view. This light trespass lowers quality of life and reduces the attractiveness of a place. In rural areas lighting can be eliminated entirely. By properly lighting the various areas of a community, economic activity can be directed where desired to help create place and prosperity.
Proper lighting can also save communities money. Ann Arbor is one of the first cities to light its downtown with nothing but LED fixtures. These fixtures draw only 56 watts and are equivalent to a 120-watt incandescent output. It is estimated to save the city more than $100,000 in energy costs and reduce CO2 emissions by 267 tons annually. These savings can then pay back the increased costs of the fixtures and LEDs provide the correct illumination at the proper scale.