Sunday, October 11, 2015

Lights on, lights off

Front entrance to a Boulder neighborhood high school
Boulder, Colorado is a small and dynamic city at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains north of Denver. It is walkable, interesting, and generally safe for most residents.

Sauntering through a neighborhood one evening last week I photographed the high school pictured in these photos. High pressure sodium, it seems, is the lighting of choice. I have written about the visual appeal of sodium lights when bounced off brick walls. While lighting at this school was uneven with blind spots, it did allow nearby residents and strollers to view the school. The warm color was attractive for evening walkers.

This lights-on approach is popular in many schools.

Brick color shows well with sodium lighting, but uneven spread increases blind spots
One Handbook for School Safety and Security describes how schools should light up the entire school perimeter at night with enough illumination to detect movement at 100 yards.

Cringing at that, the Dark Sky Society argues for lights-off citing how some schools reduce crime at schools by turning lights out.

Lights-off also shows up in a booklet on CPTED Fundamentals for Schools by CPTED expert Tod Schneider. Tod writes:
Sometimes good lighting attracts misbehavior, while darkness drives people away. Many schools have gone to darkened campuses for this reason. School resource officers have found that good lighting made schools ideal hangouts after hours, while darkness discouraged kids from congregating

To light or not to light?
Lights-off is supported by at least one rigorous study, the Chicago Alley Lighting Project. That study uncovered an increase in crime after installation of lights. But the authors admit that may have masked the real results – better lighting means more residents can see, and report, more crime.

Ultimately, lights-on or lights-off depends on neighborhood context because the by-stander effect may make all the difference. Some neighborhoods are just not that connected to their schools and residents are unlikely to walk by, or look at, a well lit school.

Though I wonder, isn't that less about lighting and more about neighborhood culture?

1 Reply so far - Add your comment

Tod Schneider said...

A further consideration: what crimes do you hope to deter? Most violent school crime happens during the day; graffiti and break-ins occur overnight. There's a risk with all school safety planning of mission drift -- starting out trying to address one problem, and ending up with a solution that's unlikely to be remotely connected.