Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Illuminati

New York city at night.Photo from Wikipedia.

As we look for ways to cut our energy consumption, a few aspects of our lives have been targeted as quick fixes, most notably lighting. Between turning off lights when not in use and replacing existing bulbs with compact fluorescents, we have the potential to save enegy, but another debate has emerged over quality of lighting. The quest for energy efficiency has led manufacturers to focus more on light output per watt of electricity than on the color of the light being emitted. It can be a jarring difference from the warmer hue of traditional bulbs. There's also a rather interesting paradox in C.F.L.s used in homes. The bulbs need time to heat up in order to reach their optimal light dispersal. Most people turn lights on and off frequently in order to save energy, never allowing the bulb sufficient time to warm up. It's not unlike coming into a dark room after being in the bright sunlight—there is a very gloomy appearance that slowly comes into clarity. At full capacity, the bulbs often let off a garish and oddly toned light. People have been complaining about the psychological impact of C.F.L.s and the fact that it completely changes the experience and feel of home.

What about lighting in the city? There's been lots of research into the impact of light quality and quality of life. Crimes are higher in areas where lamplight is too dim or emits an orangish hue, for example. There is an article in this week's New Yorker about how the Municipal Arts Society recently launched a campaign against the durable and efficient sodium lights used in parts of Manhattan. They object to the yellow-orange hue that these bulbs emit. "There is this negative subliminal response," lighting designer Howard Brandston told the reporter. "The connotation, mainly, is crime."

Vanessa Gruen of the M.A.S. addd that "yellow light muddies the colors of the surrounding neighborhoods and causes trees to look brown. It makes people feel less secure, because the colors around them are not true."

The effect is even worse when brought indoors. Brandston pointed to the example of a government designed energy-efficient medical facility that used the bulbs. "Doctors had to take the patients outside in the middle of winter to evaluate their skin color," he said.

And speaking of lighting the city at night, the city of Baltimore is looking for people to participate in a new Preakness Parade of Lights. The illuminated parade will march down Pratt Street on Preakness Eve, which is Friday, May 15. It'll kick off around 8:00 pm. If you want to create your own illuminated piece for the festivities, click here for more details. Entries must be submitted by April 15.