A New Dark Age

My local council, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to start replacing its streetlights with energy-saving ones, which would seem to be a good idea. So in my neighbourhood the old concrete pillars with lantern-shaped sodium lights have been removed – they felled them like trees! – and they’ve put in the new ones. These are about three to four feet taller, thin steel poles with black plastic wedges at the top and a stubby white aerial which talks to a central control. The idea is that the lights can report when a bulb goes, and can have the on/off times varied and be dimmed to save extra energy. The new streetlights are ugly. They look like the temporary lights used at music festivals or – and given the current attitude of the government towards the population, I suspect this was deliberate – like the lights around a prison stockade.

They do what it says on the tin – they light the street, mostly, except where they’re too far apart to cover the area properly. It’s a harsh, white light and it’s directed straight down. There’s no spread of light as there was with the old yellow ones, so the footpaths, car parking areas, garages and gardens are poorly lit, and some areas are even plunged into the kind of primordial darkness that monsters creep out of.

I’m an urban child – I’ve spent most of my life living in towns. I’m finding it hard to sleep in the new darkness and I miss the comforting amber sodium light. The place just doesn’t feel safe anymore. I’m glad I’m not working and don’t have to use the bus, as I wouldn’t want to walk along the footpaths in the dark. Ours is a nice neighbourhood with little trouble, but I’m predicting that the crime rate will go up, especially burglaries and thefts from cars in the inky-black parking areas.

I don’t know why I’m whingeing about this, as the council isn’t going to change its mind and give us our old streetlights back. I’m not sure it will even save energy – the council’s electricity bill might go down, but I can see a lot more lights being installed by local house-owners. I’m even considering putting in one of those motion-detector ones, which I hate, so I can see to walk down my garden path at night.

Did you see that picture NASA took of the Earth with the golden glow of cities like a magic spider’s web across the world? Next time they take the pictures, I’ll be living in one of the dark blots.

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