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New York mulls nighttime lighting ban for 40,000 office buildings

The city that needs some sleep: New York can't keep burning the midnight oil like this, according to one councilman and his supporters.

New York, the city that never sleeps, has long been known for its bright lights. But that might soon change, if city councilman Donovan Richards gets his way.

Richards has introduced legislation that would require owners of around 40,000 commercial buidlings to turn off the lights at night, the New York Post reports. 

The idea is to help the city meet its goal to reduce greenhouse gases 80 per cent by 2050. Violators would pay a $1,000 fine. The bill exempts small shops and landmarks such as the Empire State Builiding.

Building owners are already objecting, even though the measure would save them substantially on their electricity bills.

‘Lighting in our commercial buildings is important for our city’s productivity, and for the safety of our tenants, staff and neighbours,’ Real Estate Board of New York Vice President Angela Sung Pinsky testified at a council hearing.

Presumably they are also concerned that dampening down might take some of the shine off the Big Apple.

But Richards has some ardent supporters, including architectural historian Sandy Isenstadt, who says the ban would foster innovative new lighting schemes. Writing in the New York Daily News, Isenstadt, a University of Delaware professor and co-editor of Cities of Light: Two Centuries of Urban Illumination, notes,

  • ‘Thanks to advances in technology, lighting is being reinvented. New ways of producing illumination and assessing its effects are leading to a new understanding of the physiology and psychology of vision. Crucially, we also realise how much light, and the energy required to produce it, have been wasted, whether through bad designs or by being misdirected and casually tossed out into the night, obscuring the stars. At the same time, the lighting design profession has blossomed, conjuring luminous effects that are evocative, responsive to local conditions and that promote security, as well as being environmentally sound… In short, the high-wattage nighttime New York skyline we know and cherish is an artifact of a different time and a very different world.’

Isenstadt argues that the ban should include landmarks. ‘Supporters of the bill want to exempt icons like the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings,’ he notes. ‘They needn’t. Brightness is not light’s only dimension. Numerous other luminous effects await discovery and application.’

New York would not be the first major metropolis to implement such a ban. Paris – ironically known as the City of Light – adopted a nighttime ban over two years ago, but has had difficulty enforcing it.

Author Jay McInerney reaffirmed certain New York charactieristics in his 1980s novel Bright Lights, Big City. The proposed switch-off might require a rewrite: Dim Lights, Big City. Or perhaps the correct new title might be Creative Illumination, Big City.

Photo is from Kenny Louie via Wikimedia