Friday, May 16, 2008

January 3, 1998

“Mayor Daley announced another major upgrade in 1973: $7.50 million would be spent to replace the fourteen-year-old bluish white mercury-vapor lamps with yellowish high-pressure sodium-vapor ones. Some of the first efforts centered on high-crime areas like Lawndale, while sodium-vapor advocates cited their higher energy efficiency and greater illumination. In spite of objections, the program moved forward and was completed in 1981 with the installation of high-pressure sodium in all the alleys. For several years, the debate over the lights sizzled. But it was clear that being the 'best lighted city' now meant being the 'most lighted city'. Even areas that were traditionally treated with great attention to design felt the change... The urbane ranks of globe-topped standards have been replaced by what Harry Weese has called 'a marching column of rickety double bracketed orange-tipped fruit gibbets,' whose 'orange pools of late night light are wasted on empty stages waiting for crime.'

“The sodium-vapor controversy also reached into the suburbs, especially those with architecturally or historically significant street lighting systems... The controversy raged most fiercely in Oak Park and Evanston... In Evanston, the city council's efforts to scrap all 6,800 lights in 1976 were met with immediate and widespread protest... [Eventually,] the city decided to reject crime as a reason for bright, high-pressure sodium vapor lights, and to allow neighbors to decide on the wattage of bulb to be used...”

— Mark J. Bouman, “‘The Best Lighted City in the World’: The Construction of a Nocturnal Landscape in Chicago”, Chicago Architecture and Design: 1923-1993

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