The French Quarter’s (not so) bright future?
Earlier this year, the Vieux Carré Commission Foundation (VCCF), a private, not-for-profit organization, accepted its first major project on behalf of its affiliated city agency known as the Vieux Carré Commission (VCC). The organization commissioned a comprehensive lighting study of the entire French Quarter “aimed at bringing VCC exterior lighting guidelines into the 21st Century”:
As the Vieux Carré Commission Foundation’s (oddly incomplete) website notes, Lary P. Hesdorffer, Director of the VCC, identified particular issues regarding lighting in the French Quarter, including “security, pedestrian safety, and aesthetics in the neighborhood visited by more than 8 million people per year. Old guidelines have become obsolete as new technology in design, control, and gradations of illumination become commonplace.” It continues:
“Historically, the Vieux Carré was a very dark place. Recent and rather anarchic additions of spot lights, colored lights, neon, up-lighting of buildings, and bright, cold halogen lights have created an inconsistent and often inappropriate appearance. The new lighting study will experiment to discover ‘appropriate levels of illumination for even lighting of the public right-of-way that avoids both pitch black and lights that look radioactive they are so bright,’ Mr. Hesdorffer said.
“After reviewing proposals from seven expert contractors, the distinguished New York lighting firm of Tillotson Design Associates has been selected for the project. Its expertise in exterior building illumination, restoration, and renovation projects makes it an excellent fit. It has won numerous awards for its projects at universities, parks, and public spaces, including the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. Suzan Tillotson is the 2012 recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award at Louisiana State University’s College of Art and Design.”
While the study has reportedly been completed and the VCCF has begun presenting some of its findings publicly on an informal basis, the official report and its study recommendations have not yet been finalized. It will be presented to the VCCF’s Board at its July meeting for approval, then presented to the VCC’s Architectural Committee in August. If adopted by the VCC, it will likely be made available for public review and consideration early in the fall season of 2013.
The known details regarding the findings of the study recommend the following:
- In the commercial areas of the French Quarter, the minimum foot-candle lighting recommendation is 0.5; and
- In residential areas of the French Quarter, the minimum foot-candle lighting recommendation is 0.2
(A “foot-candle” is measurement of illumination most commonly defined as how bright a light is one foot away from the source.)
There is considerable concern, however, that these minimum recommended lighting levels are insufficient — that the amount of lighting required to meet the minimum is inadequate to provide for the public’s safety. A French Quarter resident created this video to illustrate the current lighting levels in several areas of the French Quarter in comparison to these recommendations:
(It is not known at this time if the light meter readings featured in this video montage were taken in accordance with the definition noted above.)
As noted at the end of this video, “A recent authoritative review, which used a well-established methodology to combine the results of all of the studies from the United States and the United Kingdom, concluded that improved street lighting led to a ’21 percent decrease in crime compared with comparable control areas.'” — A U.S. Department of Justice Report
Although not specifically cited, the most probable source for that quote is a Center for Problem-Oriented Policing article titled “Improving Street Lighting to Reduce Crime In Residential Areas.” It also notes the following with regard to scientific evaluations of lighting and its potential impact regarding crime:
“The discussion above shows just how complicated it can be to evaluate the effects of improved street lighting. The evaluation must consider the effects of improved lighting on crimes in daylight hours as well as in darkness. It must look for both increases and reductions in crime; and not just for the relit area, but also for a comparable control area where the lighting has not been improved. It must examine the effect of better lighting on different kinds of crime, because its effect is not consistent for all types of crime. And it must examine not just the displacement of crime to nearby areas but also the possible diffusion of benefits. Finally, the evaluation should consider other possible benefits of improved lighting, such as reduced fear.”
With the Tillotson Design Associates’ report of its findings not yet available for review, one can only wonder if all of the above-noted considerations were included in their study methodology (or if the majority of concerns addressed were instead aesthetic considerations).
Consider, too, the videos which have recently contributed significantly to several arrests in the French Quarter that are generally obtained from private cameras operating at business or residential locations. There is legitimate concern that lowering the minimum standard for lighting in the neighborhood would also compromise the ability of these cameras to record viable and useful footage of crimes in progress in the area and could possibly have the unintended consequence of reducing the number of arrests.
Finally, concerns about the minimal acceptable lighting levels should be considered and addressed only after all of the streetlights in the French Quarter are fully functional. According to a volunteer who regularly reports such data to the French Quarter Management District (FQMD), the following are the most current statistics regarding the non-functional, significantly damaged, and missing streetlights/lamp posts as presented at the June 2013 Security Committee Meeting of the FQMD:
French Quarter “interior” streetlights:
- Non-functional: 75
- Damaged: 60
- Missing Posts: 23
French Quarter perimeter streetlights:
- Non-functional: 128
- Damaged: 1
- Missing Globes: 46
- Non-functional: 203
- Damaged: 61
- Missing Globes: 46
- Missing Posts: 23
This committee drew the following conclusions from these statistics:
(a) The interior of the Quarter is getting darker [and reducing the minimum lighting level recommendations will not yield any improvement];
- 75 Non-functional streetlights (previously reported as 46)
- 60 Damaged tops (previously reported as 49)
- 23 Missing Poles (previously reported as 20)
(b) North Rampart Street has a significant number of non-functional lights;
(c) The Moonwalk area is relatively Well-lit with few outages; and
(d) Approximately 33% of French Quarter lampposts have one or more issues that affect functionality.
While the lighting study’s recommendations (commissioned at the request of a city agency) will undoubtedly strive to provide consistency regarding the level and types of lighting present in the French Quarter, the benefit of implementation is questionable by default if the city does not also ensure the most common source of illumination.
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