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"Let there be light on Mpls. streets" (editorial, Nov. 26) advocates for more and brighter lighting throughout the city. But it begs the question: What kind of light?
Such an unconditional appeal is like advocating for feeding hungry people without regard for whether the food they're given might be unhealthy.
As a career-long graphic designer, and a writer/blogger about how to celebrate small wonders, I am perhaps more aware than average of the power and peril of color. And, in the case of the light in which we choose to bathe our city, it's more than a question of aesthetics.
Paul Bogard, a fellow Minneapolitan and author of "The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light," addressed the issue in a July 2016, opinion piece on these pages, titled "LED streetlight change puts cities in new [harsher?] light."
The essence of Bogard's commentary was that the growing embrace of high-color-temperature LED (Light Emitting Diode) technology for street lighting by cities across the U.S. is an ill-considered decision with far-reaching effects on those cities' inhabitants, human and otherwise.
He cites research from the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization showing that light emitted by the types of LEDs being considered — those with the bluish-white light of Kelvin-scale color temperatures over 4,000 degrees — compromises human health, causing sleep disorders, confusing circadian rhythms and even increasing risks for some types of cancers.
He makes an equally compelling argument for the adverse effects on nonhuman nocturnal critters, including 30% of vertebrates, 60% of invertebrates and insects we depend on for pollination.
Six years later, these arguments are even more compelling, considering the additional research that's been done since on the effects of certain colors of light on living organisms.
It would be bad enough if we chose unhealthy lighting just for city streets. But we're seeing more and more of the soulless, blue chill emanating from folks' backyard security lights, lighting in public spaces and transit vehicles, car and truck headlights, and even LED flashlights.
Back in my college days I flew quite often back and forth between Minnesota and the East Coast. I witnessed, from the air, the first mass experiments in mercury vapor street lighting, another technology touted for cost savings but tainted by disagreeable coloring.
In the New York City megalopolis, one city or borough might have been awash in indifferent blue light; another, separated by just a street, train tracks or river, in much warmer, supposedly color-corrected, but still unnatural-looking pink or yellow. And a few neighborhoods still basked in their good-old, cozy incandescent lights. I remember how those stood out, like islands of humanity in a dead sea.
I thought, that's where I'd live if I were down there.
So, to Mayor Jacob Frey, the City Council and neighborhood leaders: This decision is about more than this year's or next year's budgets. Consider, also, the long-term impact on city residents' psyches.
Sure, brighten the streets where necessary. Use LEDs to manage costs. But let's make sure they're the kind that produce light of around 3,000 degrees Kelvin — the healthy, nurturing kind of light, the kind that makes people glad they live in such an inviting place.
In a world that's arguably become more insecure than at any time in our lives, keeping warm lights burning might just go a long way toward salving the savage beast.
There's a reason human beings soften in candlelight, turn to song round a campfire, and are inspired to take amazing, glowing photos in that precious light just before dusk. Warm light makes us feel more than just safe.
It makes us feel close, welcoming … human.
Jeffrey D. Willius is a writer and designer in Minneapolis.