New York City's Skyline Could Soon Get a Lot Darker

By Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan on at

Big city bright lights, the city that never sleeps, blah blah blah. New York has a big-time problem with light pollution, and now a plan is in the works to significantly dim its skyline to cut carbon costs.

Donovan Richards, a city council member in the borough of Queens, last week introduced a bill called Lights Out that would institute new rules for buildings that keep their lights on at night, in response to the city's goal of cutting its emissions by 80 per cent over the next 35 years. If passed, Lights Out would require a large chunk of NYC buildings to turn of their lights once the workday ends, rather than keeping some or all of them lit up as per tradition.

How many buildings would be effected? Capital New York says the bill targets "Class B office buildings", which comprise "about a third of the city's office space," while Citylab's Sarah Goodyear pins the number of effected structures at 40,000.

But it wouldn't necessarily mean that the whole skyline would go dark: as Goodyear rightfully points out, Donovan's bill has built-in ways for building owners to request exemption, including seasonal displays that must remain on (think Christmas windows) and buildings with historical significance, such as the Chrysler Building, whose distinctive lights are part of its design.

It's worth pointing out that Donovan is just proposing a formal city rule for something that's already being done, informally, by other organisations. The Audubon Society has organised "lights out" programs in cities all over the country in order to help migrating birds navigate their way through bright, confusing cities, and some of those programs have grown nearly city-wide in scale already. Hundreds of buildings in NYC, Chicago, and other cities turn off their lights during the busiest migration season in autumn, including landmarks like the Chrysler Building.

So Donovan is really only trying to get a rule on the books for a thing that's been clearly necessary, even to building owners, for years. That doesn't mean some people won't protest when they hear the skyline is about to get a lot dimmer. [Citylab; Capital NY; NY Environmental Report]

Image: Eric Konon/Flickr CC