Fly into any major city at night and you’ll notice vast swaths of bright white lights replacing the yellow hue from high-pressure sodiums, once the preeminent lord of night lighting across the urban fabric.
The white light is from LEDs - light emitting diodes - and cities are installing them in an implementation tsunami. They are cheaper and they are brighter, but I have been bothered by their excessive glare and, during our night site visits, I always warn students about the lack of research on LED and human behavior. Over the years I’ve blogged about sodiums and Randy Atlas has guest blogged here on LEDs. But research has been scant.
Until now! And the early results are worrying.
AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION
The American Medical Association has released a statement condemning the health effects of LED street lighting.
The AMA identifies two concerns:
Obviously, the AMA studies are not the final word. For example, the blue from LEDs can be controlled.
The lighting industry, understandably, is not happy with the AMA conclusions. One source says “As with any new technology, there are a lot of unknowns that only time will be able to tell what the results/answers will be.”
That is the same thing we have been saying about LED lights from the beginning. In the budget-saving rush to install LEDs we know very little about the behavioral, social and medical consequences from these new light technologies.
Students of CPTED know that lighting research regarding safety is based on quantity, not quality. I have yet to read a single study on light source quality and crime related behavior. This knowledge gap isn't limited to LEDs, we also have inadequate qualitative information on halide or sodium light sources.
Until we do, it’s probably best to look for successful cities with exceptional lighting, such as Melbourne, Australia, and see what they do right.
Boulder, Colorado is a small and dynamic city at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains north of Denver. It is walkable, interesting, and generally safe for most residents.
Sauntering through a neighborhood one evening last week I photographed the high school pictured in these photos. High pressure sodium, it seems, is the lighting of choice. I have written about the visual appeal of sodium lights when bounced off brick walls. While lighting at this school was uneven with blind spots, it did allow nearby residents and strollers to view the school. The warm color was attractive for evening walkers.
This lights-on approach is popular in many schools.
One Handbook for School Safety and Security describes how schools should light up the entire school perimeter at night with enough illumination to detect movement at 100 yards.
Cringing at that, the Dark Sky Society argues for lights-off citing how some schools reduce crime at schools by turning lights out.
Lights-off also shows up in a booklet on CPTED Fundamentals for Schools by CPTED expert Tod Schneider. Tod writes:
Sometimes good lighting attracts misbehavior, while darkness drives people away. Many schools have gone to darkened campuses for this reason. School resource officers have found that good lighting made schools ideal hangouts after hours, while darkness discouraged kids from congregating.
Lights-off is supported by at least one rigorous study, the Chicago Alley Lighting Project. That study uncovered an increase in crime after installation of lights. But the authors admit that may have masked the real results – better lighting means more residents can see, and report, more crime.
Ultimately, lights-on or lights-off depends on neighborhood context because the by-stander effect may make all the difference. Some neighborhoods are just not that connected to their schools and residents are unlikely to walk by, or look at, a well lit school.
Though I wonder, isn't that less about lighting and more about neighborhood culture?
I recently returned from a SafeGrowth training in Saskatoon, that city of a quarter million residents in north central Canada. Urban planner Elisabeth Miller and I have been running annual training there with city staff and others for over a decade.
SafeGrowth team project presentations were terrific and after the final day I strolled along the downtown boardwalk park of the South Saskatchewan River.
What a beautiful spot. Most of the boardwalk and surrounding buildings are lit by sodium lighting in spite of the universal rush by lighting specialists to replace night lights with bright white LED lights (some say for safety, I say for economy).
Sodium lighting? Yep, the lights that create that yellowish hue so many love to hate. People strolled along the boardwalk who didn’t seem the least bit fearful! (I didn’t photograph them in order to avoid looking creepy).
Does this place gets dicey later in summer when summer activities start? Perhaps. But when I walked here it was beautiful. It might look monotone, but the ambient lighting effect is warm and it certainly isn’t too dark. I’m beginning to think we may be speeding too quickly to replace sodium lighting.
Stargazing is a remarkable activity and even if you don't know what to look for, an overhead canopy filled with stars is awe-inspiring. The Dark Sky Society (and astronomers everywhere) agree. Me too!
Nowhere does this have more power than Tucson, Arizona where I've been this past week. The city has some of the strictest regulations to keep light pollution down. Like other communities with national astronomy observatories, it promotes those dim, orangish-hue low pressure sodium lights (LPS) for streets and parking lots.
I visited mall parking lots this week in and around Tucson. LPS are everywhere. They are awful!
The engineering lighting standard for mall parking lots is 3 footcandles (FC). An on-line survey of 9 communities reports an average 1 FC in most of those communities.
In one lot that I visited I doubt LPS produced 3 FC or even 1 FC! I love stargazing but I would not enjoy walking those lots at night.
Thankfully the economy is changing the story. Tucson is in the midst of the nation-wide LED transformation for more savings and it is switching LPS street lights over to Light Emitting Diode lighting. I hope mall owners in and around Tucson get the message. I would not want to be a victim walking to my car. Nor would I want to be a property owner sued by a victim of violent crime in those spooky, target-rich lots.
A few months ago I met award-winning industrial designer Ian Dryden from the city of Melbourne, Australia. He taught me about Melbourne's street lighting program. Given the links between fear and street (in)activity, this is a very big deal.
Most cities get poor grades for night lighting. Melbourne gets an A.
Melbourne has an incredibly active downtown night life. It wasn't always. One long-term resident told me it was once a waste-land with few people daring to walk dark downtown streets. When the city changed direction and chose to attract an evening crowd to socialize in a safe, positive way, designers and planners stepped up.
Ian and his colleagues were among them. Melbourne's public lighting program is sophisticated. It creates both a luminous and carbon neutral city, no small feat with current energy costs.
They light parks, tram stops, news stands, benches, and sidewalks. They string interesting blue (and energy efficient) LEDs above intersections. Where most cities inadvertently obstruct street lights with tree canopies, Melbourne embellishes them with tinted uplighting.
This week the 2014 Australian Smart Lighting Summit is in Melbourne and they get to celebrate among lighting peers. They should. Congratulations!
It was 3AM and the short walk from the train station to her front door was lit by a few streetlights. There may have been music from radios escaping partly opened apartment windows. Some neighbors were still awake. She'd walked home from work on this route before and it probably seemed familiar and safe. It wasn't.
Suddenly a stranger walking down the street chased and accosted her. Over the next half hour, newspapers later wrote, 38 people saw or heard her cry out as the murderer repeatedly stabbed, raped and then killed 28-year-old Kitty Genovese.
This happened in 1964 only 3 years after, and 12 miles east, of where Jane Jacobs wrote about street safety in Death and Life of Great American Cities.
This month two books commemorate the 50th anniversary of the tragedy: Kitty Genovese: A True Account of a Public Murder and Its Private Consequences and Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, and the Crime That Changed America.
Few cases have spawned so many theories and books. I've blogged on this, particularly in relation to the CPTED concept, natural surveillance. Environmental psychology now calls it the bystander effect or the Genovese Syndrome.
In short, if people can surveil an area but do nothing about crime, eyes on the street mean nothing. True, some offenders may still desist if they think they are being watched. But even this surveillance deterrence has limits. It won't apply to psychopaths, drug addicts, or the inebriated, a big list in the possible offender category.
The latest research by Timothy Hart and Ternace Miethe examined the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and discovered a bystander was present in 65 percent of the violent victimizations reported in the survey.
Environmental psychology research produces replicable results showing the by-stander effect. The fact is this: If most people do nothing, natural surveillance means nothing.
Politicians look for the simple answer. Good Samaritan laws - forcing by-standers to act under penalty of law! Legal thinking often boggles the mind! In emergencies people don't think of penalty for inaction. They think of escape.
Fortunately, there are better solutions. Since the 1980s we've known social cohesiveness increases the power of people-caring. Social cohesiveness, research confirms, increases the power of natural surveillance. Eyes that care take action. When people know each other, know their area, have a sense of connectedness and can clearly watch their neighborhood, natural surveillance works.
In recent SafeGrowth classes we saw firsthand why pairing social cohesion strategies with natural surveillance is crucial. Students tell me that some 1st Generation CPTED instructors still fail to properly teach 2nd Generation CPTED.
There is no excuse for ignoring these essential lessons. Read about the Kitty Genovese tragedy. Let’s not repeat history!
Beneath the behemoth Metrotown mall lies the second largest covered mall in Canada, a vast underground lot with 4,000 spaces. That might seem small compared to the world’s largest at the West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton (20,000), the world’s largest covered lot at Seattle’s airport (13,000) or the largest downtown underground lot in Chicago (9000).
Yet Metrotown is big. And it joins thousands like it around the world, some massive. Dubai is planning 40,000. You might assume the existence of widely used design safety standards in such places. You know what they say about assumptions!
Some municipalities do have design snippets (CCTV, lighting, security patrols), and the National Institute of Building Sciences also posts a few. But, realistically, those are a pittance in such massive expanses.
I’ve written about some great designs like lifestyle malls and creative wayfinding. As well, Randall Atlas’s book 21st Century Security and CPTED (2nd edition) has over 40 pages about parking lot security.
Walking through Metrotown I remembered teaching CPTED for the RCMP in the 1990s. We often used the Metrotown parking lot as our lighting test-bed, auditing the entranceways, examining the lighting and marveling at the vast expanses. I was impressed last week that Metrotown owners have instituted significant design upgrades over the past decade. The photos tell the story.
The best feature had been enhanced from early years. It was the glazed atriums on each stairway level. Pedestrians walking down the stairs first entered enclosed safe atrium areas on each floor. These areas had tempered glass and were often next to the security office. This gave a clear view into the parking lot from within the safe areas.
If we are going to do more covered parking in the 21st Century, here's a starting point for minimum standards.
Since 1970 the light source of choice in most cities has been sodium vapor, those yellowish streetlights you see glowing everywhere.
Sodiums are an efficient light source but many lighting engineers despise their color. According to one New York lighting designer "There is this negative subliminal response…the connotation is crime." Says another: "Yellow light muddies the colors of surrounding neighborhoods and makes people feel less secure because the colors around them are not true."
In fact there is very little actual research showing any of that. Most research says nothing about light color, only light quantity.
Regardless, it was only a matter time before a new lighting kid showed up on the block. In this case it was the LED - light emitting diode.
For example Seattle, like most North American cities, is converting to more cost efficient LEDs. They might be more efficient but they they produce a harsh, sharp image on everything.
A decade ago I was guest editor of a publication on lighting and CCTV. My thoughts then: If street lighting enhances architecture where pedestrians can appreciate the facades and details of downtown buildings, there may be problems lighting a downtown so bright it detracts from the aesthetics.
Whenever I see downtown LEDs they remind me I was probably right.
The photos in this blog demonstrate downtown sodium lighting. They show how well-placed sodiums provide adequate lighting and highlight the beautiful textures in downtown architecture.
In none of these photos did sodium lighting detract from prevention or turn people off. There are no people in the photos because, at least in the photos I took, I had to wait for them to move aside in order to show the effect. Obviously, sodium lighting did not make them feel less secure. In fact, the opposite.
We know very little about the impact of color on night time behavior, especially crime. And since no one is apparently paying attention to the crime and social impact of LEDs, I hope we don't learn, too late, that brighter isn't always better.
I just received an interesting link to a recent article published on the website of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. It offers strong contrast to Wendy Sarkissian's experience in New Haven CT reported here last month. In this excerpt from their article, Julia Ryan and Andrea Pereira, community developers extraordinaire of the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC), offer a remarkable story of success in Newhallville after our SafeGrowth training.
A collaborative approach to addressing crime can yield remarkable, sustained reductions in crime. It also can produce new housing, businesses, and parks in places where such investment was previously unthinkable, transforming troubled places into vibrant, connected communities.
The strategy is quite straightforward. To tackle crime from multiple angles, you need a team and a plan, preferably one founded on solid information about the genesis of a problem and the conditions keeping it alive. As team members act on the plan, they need to hold each other accountable.
Historically, the Newhallville neighborhood has seen some of New Haven’s worst violence. In early 2011, four of the city’s 10 homicides occurred there. Local leaders recognize that the crime challenges stem from the interconnected problems of blight, fear, drug dealing, and gang activity, so they are pursuing an array of mutually reinforcing solutions.
To guide their diagnosis of Newhallville’s problems, the New Haven team has drawn on training provided by international crime prevention expert Gregory Saville, with support from LISC. SafeGrowth champions a process by which neighborhood leaders, planners, police officers, and others work together to weigh how factors in the physical, social, and economic environment might be altered to make places safe and vibrant.
As part of SafeGrowth, NHS team members have conducted multiple safety audits of problem spots. They have convened residents to talk about persistent issues and have invited input from a journalist familiar with the area. The information complements traditional crime data in painting a picture of problems, including hints at why crime in Newhallville has not yielded to prior interventions.
Using that framework, NHS and its partners are focusing on Lilac Street, a particularly troubled block. The team’s actions have already contributed to a 50 percent drop in crime by improving lighting and sight lines on Lilac Street. Recently members secured an agreement with the City to add another 230 lights—a sign of how well joint community-police plans are received by municipal decision makers.
In addition, members are exploring new organizing strategies, including a neighborhood watch and walking groups that increase “eyes on the street” and on properties slated for NHS rehabilitation. New Haven Police are backing the effort with beat officers assigned to Newhallville.
To those who might say that such approaches are too complex to be realistic in resource-strained times, LISC’s response is: Can we affordnot to leverage each other’s strengths, especially given the interconnected nature of safety and revitalization?
GUEST BLOG - A previous blog on LED lighting introduced the concept of blue street lights and emerging research about crime. Ivana Dankova is a designer from Slovakia currently studying for her MSc in Medialogy in Denmark. In 2011 she completed graduate design research in Scotland on Glasgow’s blue light project. Here Ivana offers this blog on her research. A longer version will appear in the upcoming issue of CPTED Perspective, the ICA newsletter.
A new innovation in street lighting has appeared in Glasgow, Scotland. In 1999 blue streetlights were installed in order to improve the overall aesthetics of the area as a part of a city enhancement program. During my design research for a graduate dissertation I investigated whether blue lights have any effect on people and if so, how they affect them.
As with prior research in CPTED, my hypothesis is that the environment in which we live can influence our behavior. It can inspire us to act in certain ways. My Glasgow case study offered the chance to experience the unique atmosphere of a blue-lit street. Some sources mentioned that the crime surprisingly dropped after blue lights were installed. However, since I could not find further statistics on blue lights in Glasgow, I decided to explore it on my own.
Even though crime reduction was not the initial purpose behind the installation, the street appeared to have a much calmer effect than surrounding streets with traditional sodium yellow/orange lighting.
One possible theory explaining this effect is that since short wavelength blue light produces serotonin in the human brain (which is a calming hormone) it is possible this creates a calming impact on pedestrians. My observation is that people react positively to the lighting. The overall atmosphere is unique and feels more peaceful, calm, as if time moved slower.
I also learned following the Glasgow example, similar blue lights were installed in Japanese train stations. The number of suicides at Japanese train stations was high and increasing, but after the blue lights were installed the number dropped noticeably.
This reduction in suicides due to blue lights is spreading to other locations due to its positive results. Blue lights definitely provide a new tactic for designers looking to calm outdoor locations.
Who is Nick Holonyak Jr.?
You probably don't even know. But nowadays it is impossible to ignore his invention. In 1963 Holonyak invented the Light Emitting Diode (LED). A few years ago Randy Atlas blogged here on LEDs in CPTED.
Today LEDs are flooding our street scenes. Those eerie, brilliant and glaring LEDs are showing up everywhere from Manilla to Sydney to Las Vegas.
Oakland California, for example, is replacing 241 sodium street lights for LEDs in high crime locations (chosen by police). Cutting crime with LEDs? Do LEDs cut crime any better than other types of street lights. Or at all? What do we actually know?
We know LED color rendition is excellent and it tends to spread light more evenly. LEDs can create glare in rainy or snowy conditions. Because LEDs give off very little heat, I am told they tend to ice over in ice storms, something heat-generating sodium lights seldom do.
I can also personally report you'll burn your retinas if you look directly at them (not one of my Einstein moments).
The brighter-is-better crowd loves LEDs. Power authorities are thrilled due to 60% energy savings. LED companies are drooling at booming sales.
Yet, there is a conundrum. On one hand we promote an evidence-based, scientific approach to crime prevention. On the other we adopt LEDs without specific evidence about the effect of LEDs on crime or perceptions of safety.
The best existing research does show positive effects in somesituations for lighting in general. That refers only to lighting quantity, not quality. There is also research showing the reverse.
It's okay to adopt energy-saving lights. It's delusional to think they'll automatically cut crime. They might. Or they might make things worse.
A few days in Disneyland proves a welcoming distraction. Disney is an example of fantasy story-telling and juvenile adventure from a company that practically invented the concept.
Most interesting was seeing Disneyland streets at night. Many are quite dark. Except for Main Street it is the surrounding buildings that show up in neon splendor. The point is to make streets predictable to allow easy walking without stumbling (I did anyway).
Then it's a simple matter to highlight surrounding features with spectacular lighting and beautiful reflections. This has the subtle effect of drawing you in to have a closer look. The ambient spillover light is more than adequate to navigate the streets.
For anyone obsessed on lighting streets, Disney shows how you can do safety and not light streets at all.
True, this is easy when people arrive in families seeking cartoon fantasies. How angry can you get in the company of Goofy, Tinker Bell and Mickey? It's a self-selection that breeds natural surveillance.
If you're up for some high-falutin Foucauldian theory about this read Shearing and Stenning's 1984 article - From the Panopticon to Disney World: The Development of Discipline.
When reading this it helps to resist the duh reflex. "Disney is an exemplar of modern private corporate policing". Translation: Walk for days through hundreds of exhibits, restaurants, and recreational areas without fear of crime by following Disney's rules. Duh.
Disney does this, they say, by embedding social control into the physical and management systems so that control becomes consensual. Like lighting the buildings and not the streets.
For my money, spent on a holiday in Disneyland, the corporate order of Mickey and Minnie is a fun reprieve. And if I tire of Disney's subtle corporate order, I just leave.
Sharing street lighting ideas on Facebook recently it occurred to me how often we forget that to be truly safe a place must not be lightened. It must be enlightened.
Example: the work sent to me recently by my friend Lorraine Gamman from London's St. Martin's College of Art and Design. Lorraine sent links to alleyway projects done by Doug Tomkin and Mark Titmarsh at the Design Out Crime centre at Sydney's University of Technology.
Apparently they are hanging out on street corners. They call it Living Laneways. I call it Laneway Chic.
Their rationale? (Graffiti and lighting people, Listen Up): "Too often measures against crime…can have almost as unpleasant an effect as the things they prevent. The Living Laneways project set out to deter graffiti without alienating those who were responsible for creating it (through) the involvement of respected artists in the street-art community…"
Clearly, simple and chic laneway painting can enlighten a space. Elaborate murals are not always needed.
Mark Titmarsh has a web document called Living Laneways - City Life.It explains some DOC work in Sydney.
Check out his tagline - "respect, express, enlighten!"
If street beautification and prevention means anything, it means that.
Depressed from riot news, I silence static from clueless TV pundits by tuning down the volume. Just watching images it seems the worst violence and looting happens at night. Biased news reporting perhaps? I wonder how street lighting impacts the locations of violence and looting? Can we use that knowledge for prevention?
There are online clues. There is a problem-oriented guide for police on improved street lighting.
That guide is less about tactical design and more about analysis, evaluation, and public support (all valuable, especially for police). It lists 8 US studies in which half show no impact and 3 UK studies that show more promise. There are 2 examples of police-led lighting improvements, one of which cut thefts from cars from 27 to 4.
For urban designers and developers looking for specifics you'll find more tactical designs in the ICA guidebook for professionals, CPTED and Lighting: reducing crime, improving security by Randy Atlas.
In addition to diagrams, photometric maps, and site photos, Atlas provides details on perimeter lighting, new technologies like LEDs, lighting controls, and the IESNA lighting guidelines for minimum lighting levels.
LEDs to the rescue
According to The Atlantic magazine, the yellowish glare of sodium street lighting may be fading forever in favor of low-energy, white LEDs and crime had nothing to do with it. Energy saving and the recession did.
There has been an explosion of LED (light emitting diode) technology. Cities like Seattle and Pittsburg have been racing to install LEDs. LA will replace 140,000 of the city’s 209,000 streetlights with LEDs.
I have blogged on lighting and crime before, especially in Toronto,Oakland, and Los Angeles.
Now Arlington, Virginia is replacing 4,200 high pressure sodium street lights with LEDs. Apparently they may switch out all 12,000 street lights to cut costs.
According to the LA Times, LED technology still has glitches. No matter. The Great Recession is charting our future in ways we don't expect.
For better or worse, street light LEDs are on our horizon.
When it comes to safety on the street, we've talked about the role of walkability and lighting. Last week we talked about sustainabilityand green spaces in our civic DNA. Today guest blogger Randy Atlas introduces a new technology that combines natural surveillance with environmental sustainability.
Randall Atlas is a nationally recognized criminologist and architect specializing in CPTED. He is author of numerous publications about CPTED including his most recent book 21st Century Security and Crime Prevention: Designing for Critical Infrastructure Protection and Crime Prevention.
A similar version to this blog will appear in the upcoming CPTED Perspective newsletter.
The LEED rating system has become the driving force behind the green building movement in America. This program is a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings.
One of the most effective methods in CPTED is the use of natural surveillance. Natural surveillance limits the opportunity for crime by taking steps to increase the perception that people can be seen, thereby naturally reducing the risk of crime. Jane Jacobs formulated the natural surveillance strategy based on her work in New York’s Greenwich Village.
Nighttime lighting helps promote natural surveillance. A well lit parking lot or outdoor area is an extremely important feature of public spaces for numerous reasons. Not only does it deter crime and vandalism, it can attract customers, facilitate traffic and pedestrian safety, and increase economic development. Proper lighting provides an individual with choices on movement: whether to go forward or back from a particular area.
Lighting can also be energy draining and costly, harming the environment. The Light Emitting Diode - LED - is a new technology appearing in North American cities with superior energy efficiency and excellent lighting characteristics. LED also is more durable and has lower operating costs than traditional outdoor lighting.
THE OAKLAND EXPERIMENT
The Emerging Technologies Program of Pacific Gas and Electric Company in Oakland, California recently studied the applicability of LED luminaries in a street lighting application.
After concluding from the first phase that “no significant concerns (were) so identified” of the likelihood of any negative safety impacts from the installation of the LED luminaries on a public street, the project moved into the second phase. This involved the replacement of fifteen 121 watt high pressure sodium lights in an Oakland, CA neighborhood with the same number of new ‘Beta’ LED 78 watt lights from Ruud Lighting.
The results indicate that the LED lights drew an average 35% less power than the standard high pressure sodium lights used by most cities. Over the course of a year each LED light saves 178 kWh.
Lighting that is poorly planned may waste energy, decrease vehicle and pedestrian safety, and may result in light pollution. It is important first to identify energy efficiency and safety goals and then explore all the options, such as LED lights. That is the key for finding a proper balance between LEED and CPTED. It is also how we will improve urban developments and our way of life in future.
More good news out of Los Angeles, a place some associate with gang wars and rampant crime. Think again.
A few blogs ago we read about the Vermont Knolls neighborhood in L.A. where locals changed their locale for the better. In that case - in very SafeGrowth-like fashion - a whole menu of physical and social ingredients did the trick. I found another LA example, this time triggered by lighting.
There is a long debate in the 1st Generation CPTED and target-hardening world about whether lighting creates crime or crushes it. In SafeGrowth we've always said the diagnosis of the context is what matters. Lights on or off is not a one-size-fits-all story.
I came across this NY Times story about an experiment in eight Los Angeles parks to light them up at night time to reduce crime. And the Summer Night Lights program seems to work, especially in places with gang problems where gang-bangers hang out in dark park areas.
Apparently, when park lights were turned on there was an 86% decline in homicides and 17% drop in gang-related violence in and near the parks. It probably didn't hurt that other ingredients were added, such as job stimulus funds for hiring at-risk teens to help with the program. Still...some pretty impressive results.
Check it out:
LA's Summer Night Lights
A number of these blogs have covered safety and street lighting. Recently a friend sent me this newsclip: USA Today
It turns out municipalities are trying to save money by turning out streetlights! Will it cause crime to spike at nite? Will more folks be victimized walking home at night under a dark and gloomy sky?
The lighting research I've read is sketchy at best. It doesn't shed much light on the issue. Some research suggests lighting does impact downtown city crime. Lighting does correlate with higher fears of walking outside at night.
We should keep an eye on cities cutting lighting. Let's hope they are also cutting crime in the process.
This week I spent time in Toronto, a city with a terrific downtown and dozens of vibrant and healthy neighborhoods. It is also a city with a lighting mish-mash. Bright, glaring halide lights line some streets while yellowish sodium lights line others. There seems no rhyme or reason as far as I can tell.
A decade ago local activists convinced policy folks the bright halide's were the way to go. Their research suggested halide's white color made it easy to see faces at night and reduce pedestrian fear. I’ve never been able to find those studies so I’m unclear how robust they were.
Halides are everywhere on Toronto’s streets. Frankly, in some cases their sharp and glaring impact looks awful. Someone has forgot that, as with all urban designs, one size does not fit all. Some tactics work in one place but not another. Why switch from one lighting form to another without knowing specifically what is actually needed at that place?
In 2004 criminologists Brandon Welsh and David Farrington's in-depth study on CCTV vs lighting concluded: "Improved street lighting is an effective form of surveillance to reduce crime in public space and it has few if any perceived harmful social consequences (unlike CCTV), and may attract less public resistance than CCTV surveillance cameras." Is that the final word? Unlikely. Nor should it be.
Lighting in some places will make places safer. That much is fairly obvious. But when and where? There comes a time when practitioners must act. Smokers may, if they unwisely choose, continue to smoke regardless of the medical research showing it will kill you. Yet we still wisely legislate against media images promoting teenage smoking.
Similarly, perhaps we should start legislating for a proper crime diagnosis in specific places and then installing the proper lighting to fit? We have engineering standards for lighting levels in traffic intersections. We have the Dark Sky folks who want to cut light pollution that drowns out starlight. Why not pressure our local politicians to legislate for a neighborhood by neighborhood diagnosis of proper lighting for safety?
It is not a case of more-light-is-better. Crime is not simple. The lighting-for-safety equation isn't simple. The devil is in the details. Local ordinances and by-laws need to be carefully drafted, not in some generic fashion. But we need to act.