Public Lighting Revisited In Switzerland
GENEVA — The specks of green and blue light splashing down from above alter the atmosphere along this riverside walkway completely. The illumination is smooth and complex, with colors that change in rhythm — a sharp contrast to the rigid lamppost light that used to shine along Geneva"s 800-meter long Seujet wharf.
The made-to-measure public illumination is the work of Belgian urbanist Isabelle Corten, who was tasked in recent years with outfitting several spots in Geneva with her particular brand of lighting design. The goal isn't "to turn every square into a Disneyland park," says Florence Colace, a Geneva architect specialized in public lighting. "We want to enhance the general image of the city."
Geneva is one of many Swiss towns and cities to embrace enhanced public lighting. They took their lead from Lyon, in neighboring France, famous for its Festival of Lights. Early efforts involved highlighting public squares, small streets and cathedrals — to dazzle the tourists. More recently, technological advances have helped broaden the trend.
After this year, Switzerland's 1940s-era mercury-vapor lamps will be officially outlawed. Municipalities will have to replace them with metal-halide lamps, something Geneva has already done. Cities are also incorporating more LED technology.
Jean-Yves Pidoux, a member of the Lausanne city council, says the changes won't follow along standardized lines. "With all the particularities of the districts, roads, city center and the topography, there won't be any unified lighting in the city". But cities may follow some common principles, such cold white light for the roads and warmer hews for streets and parks.
Modernizing public lighting is trickier than it may sound, particularly when citizens and local governments disagree over the changes they'd like to see. One group may want to have better lit streets to make them safer at night; another group calls for fewer lampposts to decrease light pollution. "Lighting is but a matter of contrast," says Colace. "You will always find a street that is too dark, because another is better lit".
Consulting the population hasn't always helped matters. The municipality of Montreux, for example, organized a vote to determine what will replace the current lights. But only 100 people cast votes. Complicating matters even more was that they voted, in roughly equal numbers, for four different proposals.
To involve more people in the process, Montreux sent officials on "exploratory walks," dispatching them out into communities to talk with residents first hand. One issue that came up was the subject of the "stinking stairs," a dimly lit spot that passers-by too often use as a public restroom.
Jean-Yves Pidoux refers to the stinking stairs example to show that energy conservation and aesthetics aren't the only issues involved in debates about lighting. "This is synesthesia; the combination of the senses," he says. "More light means fewer unpleasant smells."