Nation’s capital can come into the light
The world’s great cities know a thing or two about turning on the lights at night. Think rome and the Colosseum, or London’s Westminster, or the Parthenon looming above athens after dusk. Think Toronto and the CN Tower, artfully illuminated in different hues on certain evenings. and they don’t call Paris the “City of Lights” for no reason.
as ottawa evolves into a better destination, the National Capital Commission has worked up proposals to better showcase several great Canadian landmarks after dark: Confederation Boulevard, rideau hall, Parliament hill, the National gallery and other eye-catchers. Its goal: “enhancing the Capital’s nighttime beauty, enriching the resident and visitor experience” — and doing it sustainably.
Many fear additional light pollution. some worry about the effects on human health of too much light. others raise issues around how extra lighting could affect wildlife, birds and plants in the region.
With the NCC on track to submit its Capital Illumination Plan in the fall, indications are it will get this right. as its own study notes, “The capital’s nighttime image is difficult to read, both in terms of the lack of prominence given to national and iconic symbols, and the lack of spatial orientation and visual landmarks . ... exterior lighting is dominated by functional needs; the human experience is secondary.”
Further, the lighting infrastructure is aging, and some of it doesn’t meet modern standards. Meanwhile, “roadway lighting often dominates, to the detriment of pedestrian comfort and of the showcasing of architectural elements.”
But we also don’t want visitors, flora or fauna facing ugly night glare. so the NCC is discussing dimming the lights midnight until dawn, employing motion-sensitive lighting in some places, such as pathways or courtyards and directing some lighting away from the night sky. Its plans include “dark zones” in the natural parts of the capital, such as the rideau Canal or gatineau river.
all of this doesn’t fully help wildlife, particularly birds, which are drawn to light; thousands die in collisions with man-made structures in ottawa each year.
and while you might think more night lighting means more safety, that isn’t clear.
What a coherent illumination plan can do, though, is highlight an institution or neighbourhood, direct pedestrians and traffic to important areas and help tourists locate the most attractive parts of our city. It’s all good for the national capital region.
Let’s flip the switch and get started.