Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Science Museum of VA Lighting of The Green Far From "Green"

Richmond's Science Museum of Virginia Makes a Glaring Mistake

Removing asphalt and turning a two-acre parking lot into green space is a laudable project to mitigate polluted storm water runoff and the urban heat island effect.  But is it environmentally friendly if the area is then blanketed with all night lighting that fails all criteria of responsible outdoor lighting?

                                                                                                photo credit: Ken Wilson

The Science Museum of Virginia's description of The Green touts environmental and community benefits and depicts a tranquil setting--with no light poles in sight. But reality glaringly contradicts this vision.  Approximately 35 cylindrical fixtures--each producing light in all directions, not just onto the ground-- crowd the space.  And those intensely bright light sources far exceed the threshold of 2700Kelvin or even 3000Kelvin for Color Correlated Temperature.  A February 2022 submittal from HG Studio states that "the high-brightness, high-output white LEDs shall be 4000K nominal (2700K, 3000K or 5000K optional) correlated color temperature (CCT)".   

As a refresher, here are the basics of the science-based principles of responsible outdoor lighting developed in partnership by two science-based entities: the International Dark-Sky Association and the Illuminating Engineering Society, which sets standards for lighting applications: 

The Science Museum of Virginia (SMV) lighting of The Green fails on all counts: 

  • It is not clear what the purpose of the lights are since the area is not, as far as we know, intended for active public use all night long, every night.
  • The light from these cylindrical luminaires is certainly not targeted.  
  • The lumen output is, by design, "high brightness, high output". 
  • The lighting is not equipped with adaptive controls as the lights are on full power throughout the night. 
  • And the color, at 4000K, is cold even though 2700K and 3000K were options. 
                                                                                                       photo credit: Ken Wilson

The SMV lights produce glare and uplight, are a source of light clutter for the multi-modal Broad Street, and create ecological light pollution for the recently planted trees and any wildlife that might otherwise benefit from an urban green space. 

The SMV is home to the Richmond Astronomical Society, but the museum's leaders did not consult RAS about the project and have repeatedly rebuffed efforts by members to seek mitigation of the lighting's impacts. 

SMV leadership likewise has never responded to or acknowledged communication from Virginia IDA's chapter leader seeking dialogue about the lighting and partnership for this and future projects. 

It is deeply disappointing that a museum defined by science and public education, purportedly committed to environmental stewardship, cares so little about light pollution at a time when the Smithsonian Institution has just opened a major exhibition on light pollution and responsible lighting policy and practice.