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What Carter Said

One way to advocate for the night sky is to encourage municipalities to adopt better lighting practices. At a recent city council meeting I addressed the issue twice and was passive at a third opportunity, which in itself suggests how often city government decisions can affect the night environment.

7. Committee of the Whole

Bill No. 07-16

Proposed new city flag design.

First, the City of South Bend was deciding whether to accept the design of a proposed new city flag, which features one red six-sided star. Several people spoke in favor of the bill, including a young man named Carter whom I had met at AstroCamp and who confidently spoke of the star's inspiration to him, from the perspective of it being on his sport's team jersey.

Some people were opposed to the six-sided star for assorted reasons--it didn't meet original design criteria, it was insensitive to Jewish considerations, it shouldn't represent six council districts as proposed, too much like Chicago, it doesn't match South Bend's history.

I saw the presence of a singular star on the proposed flag as a window to advocate for the night. I just wanted a star, any star. Here's what I said:

The design elements in a flag reflect what we value. All you have to do is look behind you to see how the American flag --to which we opened this meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance--expresses the ideal of statehood, as does the Indiana flag. And when choosing the symbol to represent those greatest ideals, what have we embraced? A star. The South Bend flag follows suit with its singular star to affirm further our belief in representative government—in this case, the six-pointed star for six council districts. I congratulate the city on embracing this new official flag. During Privilege of the Floor I will also ask that you strive to protect the real item that inspired this most honored symbol—that is, the real stars themselves.

When you consider your constituents, realize that half of their lives—half of your life, too—occur between sunset and sunrise. Nighttime and natural darkness have been integral to our collective evolution. Our bodies physically need exposure both to daylight and to darkness, and the star recognizes that value of night.

Please work to preserve the night sky for future generations with better lighting practices, which I'll mention later. Welcome a star on your flag, but also allow youths to grow up knowing what a star—the symbol that represents our highest ideals—actually looks like. Don’t let the stars on flags be the only stars they ever come to know. Thank you.

The Council eventually adopted the flag design, but with modifications of the resolution to omit the stated symbolism of the six points of the star for now.

9. Resolutions

Bill No. 16-45 Approving Recommendations Addressing Elbel...

I was inclined to speak in favor of this bill with its six recommended actions for the city because I had been supportive of the new approach to managing Elbel Park. See Improved Park Management Includes Night Sky. However, passage of the bill seemed likely (and it did pass) so I remained silent on the sidelines.

13. Privilege of the Floor

During the public comments near the end of the council meeting, I again addressed the council regarding municipal lighting practices:

I spoke earlier in favor of a star on the city flag--any star, regardless of the interpretation. Many city functions have the potential to impede on that night sky. So I am asking you to strive to protect the real stars themselves.

Lately I have communicated with the mayor himself and several city departments--Parks & Rec, Public Works, South Bend Police Department, Sustainability, and others--about this notion, so I want to share with you what I told them so we're all on the same page.

As the city goes about investing taxpayer dollars into lighting schemes, such as the West Side Corridors Plan, Light Up South Bend, the Lamp Post Project, and any and all future city projects, please insist on adhering to three basic principles: 1. All outdoor lighting should be full cutoff, or fully shielded. 2. Lights should minimize glare, sky glow, and light trespass. 3. If LED lights are used (and they will be, for they are the new darlings of outdoor lighting, whether deserved or not), those LED lights should be temperature rated under 3000K. That last item sounds like it should be known by engineering wonks, but it applies to everyone, which is why you should know it. If you purchase LED lights for nighttime use, insist that they are rated for 3000K or less. It’s like asking you to buy so-called “soft white” lights instead of those garish blue-rich LED lights, which are around 5000K.

Supporting documents and the science behind my appeal and other comments are at [See blog entries tagged "dark skies" and see the project Dark Skies.] So if the parks department proposes to install new LED lighting at Elbel, ask, “Are the proposed LED lights rated 3000K or less?” Not only will such lighting impinge less on human health, but you will be working to preserve the night sky for future generations.

And that young man Carter who spoke, he said, "Stars represent passion, energy, and determination." I've worked with him under a night sky; he has seen the stars. And seeing stars you get that kind of inspiration. Thank you.

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