I recently came across this fascinating night-time aerial image of Berlin. It reveals the former east-west division through the distribution of different lighting systems that were proliferated during the wall years. The essential distinction is that between sodium lights – the orange ones in the east – and mercury-vapour lamps – the greeny-white ones in the west. The difference has a subtle, yet pervasive, psychological impact on people’s experience of the opposing flanks of the city. It contributes another nuance to a place still negotiating the peculiarities of reunification and often finding new civic identity in its relics or unlikely icons.
Berlin is also home to over half the world’s remaining gas lamps, most of which are controversially earmarked for replacement as a cost-saving measure. The unique, historic ambience of city streets is considered by some an essential part of civic heritage and character.
In New Zealand, as elsewhere, our cities are increasingly lit by LED. Contemporary urban lighting culture, with its frequent focus on ‘feature lighting’, could be considered to perpetuate a city culture of events not ambience; destinations rather than places. While environment and safety are no doubt important, the sanitising sweep of best-practice and minimum standards might also be considered a blight on nuanced urban ambience and identity.
In semi-related news, a friend was recently involved in developing an Android phone app, Loss of the Night, which measures light pollution and allows users to contribute to a global database (‘citizen science’). It recently featured on The Guardian and is definitely worth a play. -NJ