Feature Article - September 2007
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Let There Be Dark

How Smart Lighting Design Increases Security, Performance and Night-Time Aesthetics

By Emily Tipping

hether you operate a baseball field in a local park or a 50,000-square-foot recreation facility with indoor and outdoor amenities, a high school football stadium or a natural preserve with a place to park, a shelter and a couple of restrooms for wildlife viewers, you have probably given some consideration to lighting.

It's not enough anymore to simply throw up the same old lighting systems that have been used for years on sports fields, or install a barnyard-style security light next to your restrooms. Concerns about everything from cost efficiency to the environment are raising new questions when it comes to lighting choices: Can you reduce your facility's energy costs? Can you provide better-quality lighting for patrons, players or spectators so they can feel safe in your park or get a better eye on the ball on your sports fields? Can you reduce your facility's carbon footprint to help address concerns about global warming? Can you help reduce light pollution?

Technological advances in lighting technology are helping facility managers address all of these concerns—and in doing so, they're providing intelligently lit facilities that are safer, more cost-efficient and more pleasing to the eye.

Starry, Starry Night

When it comes to exterior lighting, most facilities' top concerns are safety and aesthetics. However, another issue has been gaining more prominence, and should be a concern as you consider lighting design for your facility: light pollution. In fact, more and more local governments are passing regulations that address this issue—and protect their citizens, usually homeowners, from the negative impact of glare from over-lit facilities—by requiring specific types and levels of light.

According to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), light pollution has many harmful effects. It wastes energy and natural resources. It is harmful to human health, as well as nocturnal wildlife and natural ecosystems. It actually reduces safety and security, and leads to poor nighttime visibility. And, as we all know, it makes for poor nighttime ambience as the glare from poor lighting impacts our view of the night sky.

The National Park Service reports that approximately two-thirds of Americans can't see the Milky Way from their back yard. Just 1 percent of the population is living in areas that are not considered light-polluted. At the rate we're lighting up the night, there will be virtually no truly dark skies in the contiguous United States by the year 2025.

That means that, even now, you can probably walk outside your door after dark and see the negative effects of light pollution. If you're in a rural location, unless you're in one of the darkest spots in the country (lucky you), you can probably see the lights from the nearest town on the horizon. In a typical suburb, you might be able to see a couple hundred stars. If you're in the city, you can probably count the visible stars on your fingers.

Besides its impact on the aesthetics of the night, light pollution has a lot of harmful effects on our planet's life, including our own. Migrating birds get confused as they try to navigate by artificial lights instead of the stars. Sea turtles are disoriented by bright lights of coastal development. And we've all witnessed a moth's tragic dance with death in the glare of an artificial bulb.