Monday, November 27, 2006

Keep Your Light On

It's incredible what a difference some lights can make. For a pedestrian, an unlit street can feel very unsafe; especially in an urban area. Install some pedestrian-oriented lighting and that unsafe perception is all but erased. Throw in some ornamentation and you've got yourself a "historic district". The same can be said for roadways. As a City resident, I'm used to having streetlights everywhere. It can be frightening to drive in the suburbs or rural areas, as cars fly by at high speeds and the only lights around are those emanating from the headlights of the vehicles themselves. Another somewhat less obvious area where lighting can make a world of difference is in the perception of a city.

Most of the world's famously photogenic cities light themselves up at night. You can tell which buildings are which due to their unique lighting arrangements that not only improve a building's nighttime appearance, but the appearance of the city in general. Here in Rochester, we seem to have a phobia of such shameless self-promotion. Just look at our night skyline. Most office lights are turned off and most buildings lack exterior illumination. The Bausch & Lomb Building does a good job, as does the Kodak Building, HSBC Tower, and Powers Building. But other prominent skyscrapers seem to be ashamed of themselves. That shame is then extended to the remainder of our city's skyline, making it appear that our city is empty and unwelcoming. This does not need to be the case.

Every year around this time, when the sun sets before most folks have left work, one of our most prominent and recognizable skyscrapers forgets to turn its exterior spotlights off and the effect is wonderful. The Chase Tower should be easily seen at night, its' ivory vertical lines shining from the city's center. However, for the vast majority of the year, the Chase is nearly invisible, a glaring hole in our nighttime persona. Currently though, the Chase is basked in brilliant illumination at night. Filling that void and creating a relative sense of life and energy at our very core. If only they would do this year-round. Soon, they will adjust the timing of the lights and it will once again be dark at night. Why they do this I do not know for sure. I assume it is to save money on electricity and that is truly unfortunate. I suppose that is the reason why other buildings do not enliven themselves with light. Not surprisingly I suppose, the RG&E Building is one of the more brighter buildings in our downtown nightscape.

Wouldn't it be great if there were some way to provide free or discounted electricity for nighttime building illumination programs? Either through a special economic development-related RG&E program for buildings within Rochester's City Center or through a partnership with the City or RDDC, downtown building owners could feel secure knowing that their towers will be visible from afar and it will not cost them a dime. It would be good for the landlords, it would be good for the City, and it would be good for all area residents who maybe, just maybe, might begin to appreciate our city a little more as they see it in a new light.