Na­tion’s cap­i­tal can come into the light

North Bay Nugget - - OPINION - — Post­media Net­work

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.

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