Light pollution, between safety and ecology

World tour of illuminated signs

In many large western cities, light is omnipresent even when it is not necessary. In fact, the lights of some city signs remain on even though they are technically of no use to anyone. This is especially noticeable in winter, because fewer people walk in the streets at night because of the cold.

So why do these lights stay on? Why don’t cities opt for smarter lighting and more importantly, how did this become the norm?

Major cities such as New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Paris are urban centers that radiate with their lighting, hence the French capital’s nickname: “La ville lumière”. These are fast-paced cities that never sleep.

Thus, the lights remain on during the night and life goes on in the streets sometimes until 1am.


Nevertheless, we cannot say the same for all the big metropolises in the world, as habits and lifestyles differ from country to country and from city to city. Many cities, where nothing happens at night, also maintain their impressive large lights throughout the night for aesthetic reasons. Where aesthetics prevail, ecology suffers.


Street lighting is a way to maintain safety. Indeed, light sometimes gives a sense of calm, because we know where we are going, we recognize the surroundings and what surrounds us.

This light source is also necessary for drivers who then have a clearer vision of the roads they are using, allowing them to perceive the risks more easily.

Moreover, public lighting, which is very useful, is not the most harmful, nor the most consequent in terms of light pollution.


Big screens

The most remarkable and therefore harmful in big cities concerns advertising lighting. Indeed, some screens consume more than 10,000 KWH in one year, while a household consumes an average of 3500 KWH over 12 months… This type of communication remains on at all hours of the day and night. This is, moreover, what characterizes the cities mentioned above.

Places such as Times Square in the United States and Shinjuku or Shibuya in Japan are known for their campaigns that have totally invaded the decor.

Advertising itself becomes a spectacle that many tourists come to visit. Nevertheless, it is still alarming and distressing when politicians ask citizens to turn off their lights and make efforts regarding their consumption.

A household that saves is making a responsible gesture towards the environment, but a company that saves is taking a giant step forward. The ecological principle of using light “only when necessary” should be applied to every sphere of our societies.


What are the solutions?

This is how reflections are born on the lighting of cities in general with the aim of proposing more environmentally friendly ones.

Among the solutions, there is the fact of reducing the intensity of the lighting so that they are purely and only functional. The so-called “smarter” lights are useful, as they would only be turned on when present or necessary.

Some urban centers are also thinking of reducing lighting during certain hours of the night. For example, Lille has already implemented alternatives that seem to work and startups like Sunna Design are thinking about designing autonomous streetlights.


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