How I miss seeing the Milky Way from within Chapel Hill!

It’s kind of appropriate during National Dark Sky Week, a call to folks “in the United States are encouraged to turn out their unnecessary outdoor lights in order to temporarily reduce light pollution” that a recent comment by Craig O. on my post “Raleigh LEDs the Way” reminded me that this weekend – especially April 22nd between 1am and dawn – we’re going to experience the Lyrid Meteor showers.

How did a post on Raleigh’s deployment of LED-based lighting systems remind me of a meteor shower?

Well, if you read my first campaign letter in 2005 or saw one of my first appearances before Council (February, 2002) you might recall that I got more directly involved in Chapel Hill politics because of light pollution.

Starting just prior to the turn of the millennium, I tried numerous times to get the street light flooding the front yard and upper stories of our house with light pollution “fixed”. After years of foot dragging by a particular town manager, and well after my offer to purchase and pay for the installation of a proper fixture, I finally approached the “highest law in the land” – the Council – for redress.

Seven years later, more than five after that first meeting with the Council, not only is that light still shining brightly into our night time world, the Town has added more.

I learned a lot from that experience. How much a Town staff can set public policy and mangle the Council’s agenda. How dysfunctional the balance of responsibility and authority between a Council and a Town Manager can be. How the temperament of our leadership can create a “mountain out of the mole hill” when it comes to fixing even smallest of issues – like a streetlight disrupting a citizen’s night time viewing pleasure.

On the plus side, I also learned one hell of a lot about proper municipal lighting, “green” strategies for safe illumination, the fabulous International Dark Skies initiative (whose recommendations on municipal lighting ordinances I tried at one point to get Council to adopt) and, incidentally, how to fight Town Hall on behalf of far more important issues (our 4th and 5th Constitutional rights, for instance).

As I was prepping our Celestron for this weekend’s light show, I thought about how I it’s been a few years since I made a run at getting that darn light fixed.

Maybe it’s time to throw it back on the stack?

Why stop there, though, maybe I should take a run at Town sponsorship of an annual celebration of the night time sky?

One city that recently celebrated darkness was Sydney, Australia. Government officials and environmental groups there spearheaded a citywide “Earth Hour” on the evening of March 31st, during which some 50,000 households and 2,000 businesses voluntarily dimmed their lights. “It’s an hour of active, thoughtful darkness,” noted Australian actor Cate Blanchett, who was on hand for the dramatic demonstration. Organizers hope that Earth Hour will be observed throughout Australia next year.

Sky Tonight, Apr. 20th, 2007

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