In Bogota, A Wholistic Rethinking Of City Lights

A poorly lit city can become a hostile place for residents, so designers have gathered in Bogotá to discuss how lighting can serve pedestrians, the first step toward a new kind of city.

Lights on the Hacienda Santa Barbara in Bogotá.
Lights on the Hacienda Santa Barbara in Bogotá.
Verónica Téllez Oliveros

BOGOTA — Why have we condemned streets, squares and parks to daytime-only places of enjoyment? And why do we assume that where there is little light, there is also little safety? Is creating more streetlamps the only way to improve a city's lighting and safety? Why not turn abandoned, dirty, unsafe and solitary places — such as traffic overpasses — into inviting places to walk?

To answer these questions, it's first necessary to consider the fact that street lighting was conceived only to illuminate the streets, without regard for a more thorough science that can change hostile spaces into safe nocturnal meeting places. Light can transform the face of cities so dramatically that architects, city planners and even sociologists have studied lighting design for decades now.

Experts like these recently converged in Bogotá for the Imagine Light Forum (Imaginemos la luz) to discuss their projects and how light can improve the Colombian capital.

American lighting designer Leni Schwendinger, who was invited to the forum, walked around the capital's historic center and to places such as the Plaza de Bolívar. Her impression can be summarized in the contrast between the joy of observing the center's sumptuous colonial architecture and her dismay at finding such an important part of the city so poorly lit. Another lighting specialist, Paulina Villalobos, says she saw in Bogotá what she had seen elsewhere: Light that dazzles the pedestrian, ignores shadows as a resource and is indifferent to overall planning concerns.

The light bulb goes on

The problem in the capital — as in other Latin American cities — is the superficial view of light. “Artificial light is as important inside as outside,” says architect Alfredo García Mejía. “It is not a miracle but an element that must complement the public space.” For example, the wrong lighting can impede enjoyment of monuments, he says.

UAESP — the Special Administrative Unit for Public Services — is the municipal body in charge of lighting, while the energy firm Codensa provides the bulbs on our streets. Until 1999, city lights were white. Their technology included toxic mercury, so today the city uses sodium lamps instead. The city has 337,000 lighting units, compared to 250,000 in Los Angeles and 145,000 in Buenos Aires.

In a collective process controlled by the Codensa control center, the lights gradually go on every evening as photo cells inside them sense the diminishing sunlight.

Bogotá"s financial district at sunset — Photo: Antonio J Galante/VW Pics/ZUMA

City official Carlos Jaimes says the government decided in 2012 to change some 33,000 lamps to LED lighting. “What we have seen with the pilot LED lighting is that you can obtain better lighting levels, while reducing energy consumption,” Jaimes said during the forum. “In the trials on the Church of San Francisco, we saw people taking pictures, enjoying the space more.”

Participants agreed that not all parts of the cities needed the same amount of light, as different areas are home to different activities. “What we did stress is that more light does not necessarily mean more security,” says Chilean architect Paulina Villalobos. “Obviously, if you can't see a thing it’s dangerous for basic things like walking or for crime.” But she says the solution “is not to flood the city with light,” especially the type commonly used in cities and designed for cars. In Chile, she has participated in discussions about the effects of excess lighting in cities, which range from contributing to stress, to premature aging and cancer.

Leni Schwendinger has explored the idea of simple projects to change perceptions of such public areas as overpasses. She says she redesigned one overpass in New York, turning it from a dirty, neglected area to one that people now enjoy using.

The forum yielded two important lessons, Schwendinger says. First, the quality of pedestrian areas must be improved with lighting designed for pedestrians. And second, the city should create small, well-defined areas with agreeable lighting. That would be a start.

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.



• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.


Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.


Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

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"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."


Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

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471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!!

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