06 January 2009

"The lamp is the symbol of prolonged waiting..."

Save Dark Skies

We spend many of our weekends just North of Manhattan, in an area that remains - stubbornly and wisely - behind the times in implementing the bleak illumination that most of us have become accustomed to.

The connection between darkness and light is quite clear: the first increases sensitivity to the second. And this is what we felt, when we happened upon a small house, over a bubbling stream that we now use as our get-away from the lights of the City: the darkness, for lack of lighting, had a richness we had forgotten.
For the time being, our Dark Skies are still protected. But new development threatens it, despite our effort to buffer our views from adjacent light pollution by acquiring a large track of adjacent land and placing it into conservation. Even as we sheppard more land into a public land trust, with our neighbors, low cloud cover over the opposite side of the Hudson, would reflect so much indirect artificial light 15 miles away, that our dark skies were becoming illusive. Desperate measures are needed in desperate situations: we needed to save our dark skies. Dark surroundings and the moon reflected in the stream, were one of the few attributes we could attach to this weekend house, so it now became a matter of preserving our modest investment.
It was also an opportunity to make good on our word - to contribute to saving Dark Skies - where public awareness and resources are in short supply. Our day-jobs, designing glare-proof street lighting and low-energy buildings in urban settings, needed a more immediate pendant closer to home. We looked, then, to make our own suggestions to the local town trustees to improve night lighting, at the railroad crossing, on the waterfront - making modeling simulations and mock-ups to demonstrate how we could reduce visual glare and once again not only see the sky, but our nightscape.
With the simplest of terms on the subjective effects of dark-light contrast, luminance and luminance, on fine optics, low visible glare, on reducing harsh contrasts at the water's edge, safety by seeing one's surroundings in graduated shadows, on saving on money and maintenance, we got their ears.
We promised less energy dispensed per lumen distributed, and we would prove it with lighting diagrams. With the darkened mountain as its backdrop along the river's edge, the lighting would be only a suggested presence, we said, providing a uniform hallow of light on the ground, nothing reaching above our eye sight, no stray light to the sky. Gone would be the light source that attracts our eye in a sea of darkness.
The lighting we are now implementing on the waterfront, and on a nearby railroad bridge over the Hudson provides a new visual relief: our gaze can now see beyond the light source itself and unifies our perception of the landscape. It strikes a delicate balance between presence and absence: optically the nighttime lighting subverts its own presence. The sky is better on account of it.