City of blinding lights

Post by Eric Mang in ,

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light pollution
Walk into the light: cities need to tone it down

Oh Dorothy Parker, what fresh hell is this? Slipped ‘neath the noses of media all atwitter with Twitter and Susan Boyle’s eyebrows, is a plan to fill our senses with more pernicious white noise.

The occasionally curmudgeonly John Barber, a lone voice, albeit with a giant platform, attempts to warn everyone of an impending blight on the cityscape: replacing billboards with giant videoscreens.

Barber already made the obligatory Blade Runner reference, necessary when conjuring up images of a dystopian future, where it rains a lot and a blimp hangs in the dark, ominous clouds playing that same damn geisha ad over and over and over until it’s as meaningless and boring as Marilyn Manson’s shock schlock. But it messes with our heads, buzzes in the backs of our skulls and a visually chaotic Blade Runner looms gravely on the horizon.

It seems that Astral Media thought they could erect a bunch of LED signs without Toronto City Council approval (from what I understand Astral was certain they could convert their existing billboards to videoscreens as “approved as of right”). So we have one guy, Rami Tabello, and his team at www.illegalsigns.ca fighting this. Hoping to delay LED video screens until the city can study what this would mean and perhaps implement a by-law, similar to one being considered in California, to ban LED videoscreen billboards.

Astral has embarked on a lobbying campaign, natch. “Don’t be technological laggards, you horse-and-buggy-riding Amish! You’re standing in the way of developing retinal scan recognition advertising! Think of it. You walk past an Interactive Display for Information Outdoors Technology (I.D.I.O.T.), it discreetly scans your eyes, id’s you, and asks if your rash has cleared up and if you need more ClapBGone.” Okay, they’re not really saying that.

An Astral spokesman says: “It [LED grotesqueries] is simply a more modern, effective way of communicating with people.”

Barber and the state of California are looking at whether these colossal TVs pose a safety risk. That’s a good question to ask because the last thing we need is another distraction for those boneheads who have given up signaling because they’re too busy juggling their Blackberry, an iPod and asking that OnStar phone-sex operator for directions to the closest florist.

But safety aside, what about visual pollution? A concept amply explored in Naomi Klein’s “No Logo”. Can we please have less consumerist chaos competing for what little oases of sanity we have left?

What about the energy used, especially at a time when all of us, except Alberta, are trying so hard to reduce our respective carbon footprints? Astral says that the signs will be powered by renewable energy and will reduce hydrocarbon outputs by a factor of 10 (Barber doesn’t know what that last bit means and neither do I). Here’s a better idea: fewer signs and the ones that are up are posters. They don’t require any energy – at least in operation; production is another matter. Except for those blasted spotlights that hang over the signs. So let’s ditch those.

National Geographic, in its November 2008 issue, featured the impact of light pollution and how it can disrupt the circadian rhythms of nocturnal and diurnal animals. Robbed of darkness when we need it, it can cause biological confusion; something we know already happens to nocturnal species. One study found a correlation (not causation) between increases in breast cancer in women and the nighttime brightness of their neighbourhoods.

More cities around the world are starting to turn off the lights. In 2001, Flagstaff, AZ, location of the Lowell Observatory, clamped down on light pollution and became the first International Dark Sky City.

Visual pollution, light pollution, ad pollution, environmental pollution. Looks like videoscreens do little more than a whole lot of polluting.

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