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Community / Public space

New York could force 40,000 buildings into nighttime darkness to cut carbon footprint

If you’re the sort of person to worry about a city’s carbon footprint, you don’t have to look far to find some emission sources to worry about. Many cities nighttime skylines are defined by towers glowing to the tips of their spires, despite the fact that most are offices and are, with the possible exception of the odd over-worked banker or the cleaning staff, completely empty.

And so New York’s city government is trying to clamp down on its nightly light display. As part of a wider push to reduce the city’s environmental impact, a City Council bill proposed at the end of April would limit light use, both inside and outside most buildings left empty at night. The change is expected to affect around 40,000 structures. Any building operators who broke the rule would have to pay a $1,000 fine.

Some famous landmarks – the Empire State and Chrystler buildings, for example – would be exempt. Mayor Bill de Blasio has expressed support, citing the city’s problems with light pollution and energy use, and the fact the lights can confuse migratory birds.  

Resistance to the bill, meanwhile, has come from those worried that a darker city could lead to a rise in crime, especially as CCTV cameras would be less effective in dimmer surroundings.

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During the bill’s hearing, France’s environmental minister phoned in to explain that a similar move in France has cut energy use by 9 per cent. Is that worth losing city’s iconic skyline for? As one speaker at the hearing put it:

Many of us have felt a sense of pride in [the skyline’s] beauty… However, now that we are in this climate crisis, we see these lights as something else. We see them as wasteful of energy.


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