Brand New Developments in Portland Defy Basic Standards of Sustainable Outdoor Lighting

Concept image of the Fair-haired Dumbbell Building by day submitted to the City of Portland during planning process. © Guerrila Development

Concept image of the Fair-haired Dumbbell Building by day submitted to the City of Portland during planning process. © Guerrila Development

Support City-Wide Lighting Standard with Your Letter to Portland City Commissioners

Thomas Lovejoy, “The Godfather of Biodiversity” said, "If you take care of the birds, you take care of most of the big problems in the world." The same might be said about light pollution. Reduce light pollution and you reduce its harmful, biological effects to birds, fish, frogs, trees, and most forms of life that have evolved in sync with the clockwork of day and night --- including humans. Reduce light pollution and you reduce energy waste caused by unnecessarily lighting the sky or your neighbor’s bedroom. Reduce light pollution and we may make streets and neighborhoods safer. More studies are showing that certain outdoor lighting may invite crime, not deter it. More and more people are heard saying, “I avoid driving at night; the lights are blinding.”

Brighter is NOT Better

Concept image of the Fair-haired Dumbbell Building by night submitted to the City of Portland during planning process. © Guerrila Development

Concept image of the Fair-haired Dumbbell Building by night submitted to the City of Portland during planning process. © Guerrila Development

Since the advent of artificial light, we have grown increasingly addicted to eradicating the dark. In the past, we could blame that on ignorance. That excuse is no longer valid. We know from scientists and physicians that this trend of more ubiquitous and brighter light at night is not environmentally sustainable and poses risks to human health and safety. Our society now sits on a precipice. Do we accept a false, modern paradigm of Brighter is Better, or do we act wisely and adopt a paradigm of Dark Skies Benefit All? If the latter, where do we begin?

Nature is a great guide. When we abide by the tenets of nature and mimic its behavior in our artificial systems, we live more sustainably. No one knows this better than Portlanders. We pride ourselves on being a “green city,” and our international reputation for sustainable living is well-deserved. Now is the time to let nature be our guide in combatting light pollution. Given the rapid growth rate in the Portland Metro Area, it is imperative that we quickly move in the direction of sustainable lighting standards.

Why the rush to adopt standards? The best available science suggests limiting outdoor lighting to a color temperature of 3,000 Kelvin (K) or less. The street lights of Portland have recently been converted to LED lamps with a color temperature of 4,000 K. Metro recently converted its spire and crescent lights at the Oregon Convention Center to 5,600 K. Brand new development near the Burnside Bridge, called the Fair-haired Dumbbell (see above images), defies the basic standards of sustainable outdoor lighting design – that is, full-cutoff/fully shielded light used only when needed; for architectural lighting use downward facing fixtures to the extent practical, and if uplighting is required, use lighting low in intensity and incorporate full shielding. As shown in the photographs, this new building is as illuminated at night as it is by day. Extremely bright LED spotlights face upward from the first floor. The acorn streets lights (known as “light bombs” within the dark sky community) waste more than 50% of the light emitted.

The lighting examples cited above do not align with Portland’s leadership status in the sustainability movement, and they suggest that without proper lighting standards, light pollution will worsen at an increased rate. The recently adopted 2035 Comprehensive Plan identifies light pollution, but it doesn’t go far enough to make an impact commensurate with the scale of the issue. However, there’s been a shift, and positive change is hopefully coming. Kudos to Portland Commissioner Fish who recently submitted a Light Pollution Performance Target Amendment for the 2035 Central City Plan -- a step in the right direction. The Audubon Society of Portland and Rose City Astronomers have been advocating for lighting standards for many years. The good news is that the City is now leaning towards funding staff time in the 2018 budget to develop a lighting standard that would be applied throughout Portland. Now is the time to urge Portland City Council to fund this work. You don’t have to live in Portland to make your voice heard. Surrounding communities are subject to Portland’s skyglow. The bulk of the responsibility to preserve dark skies thus resides with Portland.Though bad lighting habits are evidently hard to break, it’s encouraging to know that light pollution is truly one of the easiest types of pollution to reverse and prevent. We just have to have the will to work with nature, not against it. We can do it, just like we do when we protect fish by not watering summer lawns and when we compost our food waste. If we preserve dark skies, all will benefit.


Members are encouraged to share this article with their neighborhood associations and local newspapers.