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People Piqued by Plans to Place LED Lights in Rome

Foes of the energy-efficient lights take a dim view to the city’s new bulbs

Say "arrivederci" to softly lit Roman streets and "ciao" to a well-illuminated night. (star5112 - Flickr/Creative Commons)
smithsonian.com

If you’ve ever roamed Rome by night, you’ve likely stopped to smile at the beauty of a city bathed in a golden glow. Part of the credit goes to the city’s famously lovely architecture, but Rome’s sodium streetlights do their part, too, casting a yellowish glaze on the streets below. But next time you head to the Eternal City, beware: LED lights are starting to replace sodium ones. And as The New York Times' Elisabetta Povoledo reports, the new streetlights are creating quite a stink among locals.

The furor began with a decision to replace the city’s sodium streetlamps with more energy-efficient and cost-effective, white-hued LEDs, Povoledo reports. That has prompted an angry response from residents and visitors who complain that the new lights cast a harsh hue over the city that dampens its beauty. Officials tell Povoledo that they are opting for new lights both to brighten dark spots and save money, but that they have chosen warmer tones for the city center after discussions with Rome’s cultural authorities.

Rome is not alone in its struggle over streetlights. Many cities have already made the switch to LED, touting the tech’s energy efficiency, long-lasting bulbs and environmental benefits. But LED rollouts have been criticized and even changed, especially after the American Medical Association released a report last year cautioning that LEDs can disturb sleep, endanger drivers and increase the prevalence of cancer and cardiac disease. The lights have also been linked to problems in animals, reports Jeff Hecht for IEEE Spectrum, even causing sea turtles to become stranded when they inadvertently swim toward brightly lit resorts in nesting zones.

Then again, Rome has a history of finicking with its lights. In 2005, for example, the city decided to turn down its streetlights in an attempt to reduce light pollution, and a historian of the city notes that Romans hated the idea of streetlights so much when it was first introduced in the 19th century that they resisted it as an “imposition that threatened their liberties” and fought the innovation for decades. Rome’s beauty may be eternal—but so, it seems, are squabbles over how to light it.

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