Grounded in the practical problem of light pollution, this paper examines the aesthetic dimensions of urban and natural darkness, and its impact on how we perceive and evaluate nighttime lighting. It is argued that competing notions of the sublime, manifested through artificial illumination and the natural night sky respectively, reinforce a geographical dualism between cities and wilderness. To challenge this spatial differentiation, recent work in urban-focused environmental ethics, as well as environmental aesthetics, are utilized to envision the moral and aesthetic possibilities of a new urban nocturnal sublime. Through articulating the aspirations and constraints of a new urban nocturnal experience, this paper elucidates the axiological dimensions of light pollution, draws attention to nightscapes as a site of importance for urban-focused (environ- mental) philosophy, and examines the enduring relevance of the sublime for both the design of nighttime illumination and the appreciation of the night sky. Keywords Darkness · Light pollution · Sublime · Environmental ethics · Environmental aesthetics · Philosophy of the city 1 Introduction elimination of darkness and the natural features it makes possible. The starry night sky has captured human imagina- Cities given, the problem was to light them. So begins R.L. tion and curiosity for ages, but is becoming increasingly rare Stevenson’s (1881) essay “A Plea for Gas Lamps” bemoan- and difficult to experience. City lights and the night sky have ing the new technology of electric lighting in favour of gas- come into conflict, adding a new dimension to the problem light. While the specifics of Stevenson’s argument may seem of lighting cities. antiquated, the sentiment is familiar. Lighting is fundamental This nascent conflict is a complex environmental chal - to our nighttime spaces and experiences, the antecedent to lenge for the twenty-first century, yet it also creates an any discussion of the city at night. It has brought momentous opportunity to propose new visions for urban nightscapes. changes, creating space and time out of darkness, expanding Grounded in the practical problem of light pollution, this human activity, and allowing for new forms of visual expres- paper examines the contemporary axiological dimensions of sion. The spectacle of electrical illumination is one of the urban and natural darkness. In particular, competing notions great technological achievements of our age, and an integral of the sublime and their interrelated moral evaluations are part of cities: “The night skyline has become the signature examined. To do so, different threads analyzing concep - image of the metropolis, a defining landscape of moder - tions and evaluations of nocturnal sublimes are gathered nity” (Nye 2010, p. 12). However, the proliferation and together from across disciplinary boundaries. Experiences abundance of illumination has created a new environmental of urbanized and natural nightscapes—of electric illumina- problem: light pollution. Of the varied adverse impacts of tion and the starry sky, respectively—evoke similar aesthetic artificial light at night, perhaps the most conspicuous is the responses, but with different moral connotations. However * Taylor Stone This paper is explicitly limited in scope, focused on developed firstname.lastname@example.org regions where the ecological and social impact of overabundant nighttime lighting has become a concern. Lighting issues in regions Ethics and Philosophy of Technology Section, Delft of the world with limited or no access to electricity—what Pritchard University of Technology, Jaffalaan 5, 2628 BX Delft, (2017) describes as lighting poverty, the inverse problem to light pol- The Netherlands lution—are not discussed here. Vol.:(0123456789) 1 3 482 T. Stone neither can, nor should, be quickly or wholly disvalued. We in its vastness or power before giving way to a pleasurable must acknowledge the heritage of twentieth century light- experience; it is in this tension between displeasure (appre- ing developments without uncritically accepting the current hension, overwhelmingness, anxiety, etc.) and pleasure (a state of affairs or ignoring its environmental impact. To do distanced delight or appreciation) that the sublime arises. so, I propose that we must re-envision the urban nocturnal Paradigmatic examples of the sublime are found in natural sublime, striving for nightscapes that are both aesthetically landscapes and events: mountain ranges, waterfalls, volca- powerful and morally engaged. In doing so, explicit attention noes, thunderstorms, and the night sky. In particular, the is given to the influence, and incorporation, of values into experiences described below elicit the mathematically sub- the built environment, an important theme for urban-focused lime, concerned with experiences of immense size and vast- philosophy (e.g., Epting 2016; Schrijver 2015). Put other- ness rather than power, which is alternatively categorized as wise, this paper explores how philosophy can contribute to the dynamically sublime (Kant 1987; Brady 2013). envisioning the future of cities at night. Following a common theme (i.e., the sublime) is use- The following section investigates in turn the aesthetics of ful for giving form to a nebulous issue. Darkness at night city nights, the value of naturally dark skies as understood via and nighttime illumination are so familiar that analyzing the threat of light pollution, and the resultant spatial differ - our experiences of them seems almost trivial. However they entiation. First urban nightscapes are presented, focusing on are malleable and variable concepts with many different their legacy of positive values and notions of the technologi- manifestations, and their experiences have become closely cal sublime. Next, the problem of light pollution and result- entwined. On a conceptual level, “darkness does not trigger ant evaluative shift towards artificial lighting is discussed, essential human responses but is always mediated by human focusing on ideas of the astronomical sublime as a motivation practices and values” (Edensor 2017, p. 170). The sublime to protect the night sky. The moral implications of these com- is thus a useful—and formative—lens through which to ana- peting sublimes are then examined. It is argued that a wilder- lyze the symbolic meanings and evaluative judgements of ness nightscape has been constituted, where the night sky is differing nightscapes. And importantly, the sublime draws accessible and the preservation and protection of darkness is attention to the entwinement of aesthetic and moral judge- seen as a moral duty. These spaces require protection from ments of contemporary nightscapes. light-polluting, urbanized nightscapes, which are defined and bounded by artificial illumination. These two distinct night- 2.1 City Nights and the Technological Sublime scapes reinforce perceptions of a nature-culture dichotomy, or what has been called a geographical dualism between cit- The modern era of formalized public lighting efforts ies and wilderness (Light 2001), with troubling implications (roughly since the mid-seventeenth century onwards) has for urban-focused environmental ethics. However, this paper brought with it many benefits. The various technological will not end with a critique. Section 3 proposes that urban innovations to oil lamps, gaslight, and electric light, in com- nocturnal experiences be conscientiously re-envisioned, as a bination with changing commercial and social practices, step towards addressing the problems of light pollution and have fundamentally altered urban nights. Historical accounts overcoming this geographical dualism. After first situating of these developments tend to put forward a broad thesis that dark skies as a form of urban restoration, recent works seek- the ramifications of nighttime lighting are as much a prod- ing to rehabilitate the sublime’s relevance to contemporary uct of symbolic and social meanings as technical innovation environmental aesthetics are utilized to explore the possibili- or functional purpose (e.g., Nye 1990; Schivelbusch 1988; ties of a new urban nocturnal sublime that incorporates the Schlör 1998). Artificial illumination has long been positively positive aspects of dark skies into city nightscapes. associated with values such as safety and progress, while darkness has maintained antithetical associations with dan- ger, evil, and primitiveness. Dunnett (2015, p. 622) explains 2 Moralizing Lighting, Moralizing Darkness that, “the idea of light, both in a practical and symbolic sense, has come to be associated with modernization and Throughout this section, close attention is given to two dif- the so-called ‘Enlightenment project’ in various different ferent manifestations of the sublime and the interrelated ways… Here we can also see how the metaphor of light has moral evaluations of contrasting nightscapes. While here taken on a moralizing tone, seen as an all-encompassing interpretations of the sublime in contemporary (and con- force for good, banishing the ignorance of darkness in mod- text-specific) discourse are of primary concern, they can be ern society.” Electric lighting in particular embodies this broadly construed as invoking a Kantian notion of the sub- symbolism, understood as providing “a visible correlative lime. While sharing some similarities with notions of beauty, for the ideology of progress” (Nye 1990, p. 35). While this the sublime should be understood as a distinct aesthetic has been challenged and disrupted by concerns over light quality and category. The sublime is at first overwhelming 1 3 Re-envisioning the Nocturnal Sublime: On the Ethics and Aesthetics of Nighttime Lighting 483 pollution, the legacy of positive values shaping and shaped aback and in awe of the brightness and multitude of lights. by lighting infrastructure remains. In New York Nocturne (2008, p. 19), Sharpe presents the Alongside the moral symbolism of illumination has been sublimity of New York as “both inspiration and example, a profound transformation of nocturnal experiences. In projecting an all-encompassing script of light that stunned Acquainted with the Night (2004, p. 95), Dewdney reflects observers with its unnatural brilliance and cryptic, seem- on the “electric blaze of the city at night” as being “one ingly cosmic significance.” Upon visiting New York City of the most fantastic sights of our times.” This experience, in the 1930s, the architect Le Corbusier described it as a explains Dewdney, is paradoxical, in that its monumental- “Milky Way come down to earth” (quoted in Sharpe 2008, ity gives a feeling of permanence, but is also made more p. 6). In moments when you become aware of the immensity impressive knowing that it has only been possible for little and scale of artificial illumination in places like this, it takes more than a century. Electrified skylines, a defining feature on an almost otherworldly quality. It is all the more powerful of urban nightscapes, have become paradigmatic of what if we see these nightscapes as wholly artificial environments, Nye (1994, 2010) calls the electrical sublime, a subcategory as human creations. City nights create a sort of human-made of the technological sublime. With this concept, Nye (1994) constellation, erasing the heavens in favour of “man-made extends theoretical understandings of the sublime beyond stars” (Nye 2010, p. 12). solitary experiences of natural settings to also include collec- tive experiences and popular accounts of modern technologi- 2.2 Light Pollution and the Astronomical Sublime cal feats, such as railroads, skyscrapers, and spacecraft. As applied to illumination, Nye explains that during the initial Electric lighting proliferated during the late 19th and early electrification of cities (ca. 1880s–1920s), nighttime light- twentieth centuries, and was subsequently normalized as ing was somewhat disorganized and had many competing a taken-for-granted backdrop to city nights (Nye 1990). actors and interests, creating a nightscape of different light- The spectacle of artificial illumination, though, has had ing intensities, types, colours, etc. This development, while consequences. Its proliferation has never been universally unplanned, created a distinct and novel aesthetic. “Taken celebrated (see Edensor 2017, pp. 170–77), and has been together, the myriad lights produced a lively landscape with increasingly criticized from an environmental perspective. strong popular appeal. Like the accident of the city skyline, There is a growing appreciation that the developed world the electrified city was something fundamentally new, an is now over-illuminated, or at least poorly illuminated. The unintended sublimity” (Nye 1994, p. 173). adverse causes and effects of artificial nighttime lighting While Nye (1994) is referring specifically to develop- have come to be known as light pollution, and an increasing ments in the United States (he points out that European cities body of literature is highlighting the consequences. Billions were not quite as enthusiastic about commercial lighting in of dollars are spent annually to power hundreds of millions the early twentieth century), his observations bring to mind of lights around the world, and their necessity and efficiency contemporary urban experiences around the globe. To walk has come under scrutiny. For example, in the USA it is esti- through a downtown core at night is to be immersed in arti- mated that approximately 30% of outdoor light is wasted, ficial light, to be encompassed by this technology. Illumina- at a cost of almost $7 billion dollars annually. This equates tion re-shapes the urban fabric, sometimes seemingly ad hoc to vast amounts of energy usage—approximately 66 mil- and at times carefully planned, with attention paid to what lion metric tons of C O —equivalent to the emissions from and where is lit, and how. In either form it effectively creates roughly 9.5 millions cars (Gallaway et al. 2010). The effects the city at night, carving space and time out of darkness. are not limited to efficiency, as there is also concern over the There is a reverence and excitement when entering a met- effects of artificial nighttime lighting on different species ropolitan city at night, with its innumerable lights creating and ecosystems, termed ecological light pollution (Longcore a vibrant atmosphere. Entering a space like Times Square and Rich 2004). Likewise, the effects of artificial lighting in New York City for the first time, it is hard not to be taken on human health are quickly emerging as a contentious and important subject of inquiry (e.g., Chepesiuk 2009). While there is still debate over the extent of the effects and costs, it can nevertheless be appreciated that artificial lighting is giv - While this paper focuses on contemporary environmental issues ing rise to a new domain of moral and political concern. The and the influence of artificial lighting technologies, particularly growing recognition of light pollution has inverted the prob- electric lighting, the symbolism of light and darkness recedes well lem of how to light cities, with questions of environmental beyond the modern era of public lighting. There is a rich and com- plex history of scientific, metaphysical, theological, and moral inter - pretations of light, as well as related symbolisms of night and dark- ness, that have shaped contemporary understandings but are outside the scope of this paper. For in-depth analyses, see for example Ekirch For an overview of the costs and benefits of nighttime lighting, see (2005), Park (1997), and Zajonc (1993). for example Gaston et al. (2015) and Pottharst and Könecke (2013). 1 3 484 T. Stone degradation, energy efficiency, and health impacts coming to the fore. A particularly conspicuous effect of light pollution is the ambient atmospheric brightness created by light directed or reflected upwards into the night sky, termed skyglow. It is a familiar phenomenon: being on the outskirts of a city and seeing a glowing horizon, almost like an artificial dawn; observing an orange-coloured haze above you in cities (espe- cially on overcast nights). In fact, it is so common that it has become the norm in many parts of the world. Falchi et al. (2016) have found that 83% of the world’s population, and over 99% of people living in Europe and the United States, live in places with a night sky considered to be light-polluted (a minimum of about an 8% increase above natural night- time conditions). In cities, the artificial night sky brightness is typically several magnitudes greater. Furthermore, our nights continue to get brighter by around 3–6% annually worldwide (Hölker et al. 2010). Light pollution—and in particular skyglow—has spurred a deeper reflection on the need and desire for lighting at night, and on what is hindered or degraded by artificial illu - mination. This has drawn attention to the environmental and cultural value of darkness, and in particular the value of night sky (e.g., Bogard 2013; Gallaway 2014; Henderson 2010; Stone 2018). In response to the growing pervasiveness of artificial lighting and its negative impacts, efforts and organizations have emerged that work towards the protec- tion and preservation of dark skies. The largest advocacy group, the International Dark-Sky Association, has the stated mission of “protecting the night skies for present and future Fig. 1 An example from the Milky Way poster series: Death Valley generations” (IDA 2016). Their work, along with other simi- National Park, Tyler Nordgren, c. 2012–2016 (http://www.tyler nordg lar organizations, includes advocating for best practices in ren.com/milky -way-poste rs/) lighting policies and design (e.g., IDA-IES 2011), as well as the creation and protection of dark sky reserves around the world (Meier 2014). sky invoked by astronomers and environmentalists, Dunnett (2015) draws on notions of the astronomical sublime (Kes- While quantitative reasons for the mitigation of light pol- lution are often highlighted—the billions of dollars wasted sler 2012). A starry sky is beautiful and inspires a sense of wonder, yet there is also an immensity and vastness that annually on poorly designed lighting, for example—argu- ments likewise rest on qualitative rationale. Skyglow cuts off inspires a sense of awe. This feeling, a seemingly inescap- able response to the starry sky, is both a visceral response experiences of the night sky, causing concerns over the “loss of the night.” For all of human history we have had a starry and one reinforced by modern science (Shapshay 2013). To look out into the night sky is to see billions and billions of night sky above us, so the argument goes, which has been a resource for mythology, religion, navigation, scientific dis - stars and galaxies shining their eon-old light from incredible distances, through a harsh and inhospitable universe. It has covery, etc. The cultural losses that we will suffer from the disappearance of the night sky underlies judgements that temporal and spatial dimensions that we can comprehend abstractly, but its scale is difficult to fully grasp (Hepburn light pollution is bad and the protection of the night sky is a moral duty. This is perhaps best exemplified in initiatives 2010). Put more simply, it is the epitome of the mathemati- cal sublime in nature. such as the Declaration in Defense of the Night Sky, which asserts that access to an unpolluted night sky should be an The contemporary axiological dimensions of the night sky are encapsulated by the “Milky Way” poster series of inalienable right (Starlight Initiative 2007). Closely interwoven with these ethical arguments is the artist and astronomer Tyler Nordgren (Fig. 1). The series features stylized and semi-abstracted nightscapes of vari- position that, at a basic level, it is an experience worth pre- serving. To explain the related aesthetic value of the night ous United States national parks, typically featuring a few 1 3 Re-envisioning the Nocturnal Sublime: On the Ethics and Aesthetics of Nighttime Lighting 485 solitary, contemplative figures staring up at a start-dotted sky problematizing how we conceptualize both light pollution with the Milky Way meandering across. Nordgren’s posters and darkness. The paper focuses on NASA’s 2012 image present a tamed, domesticated sublime encounter, providing City Lights of Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, a com- a contemporary view of darkness far different from the val- posite satellite image of the earth at night (Fig. 2). Through a ues discussed in Sect. 2.1. Instead of a threatening landscape close reading of the image, Pritchard highlights the creation the posters present a pleasant and inviting scenic sky, with a of a new site of environmental concern (the nightscape) and monochromatic colour palette of various shades of blue—in a related new environmental issue (light pollution). How- contrast to the pitch-black darkness typically associated with ever, City Lights of Africa, Europe, and the Middle East is sites of danger or evil. In sum, Nordgren’s Milky Way post- not a photograph but an altered image: sources of lighting ers capture the moral-aesthetic essence of the astronomical deemed natural—fires, volcanoes, etc.—were filtered out, sublime evoked by dark sky activists. However, to re-focus increasing the contrast between dark regions and brightly- on the urban nightscape, it is exactly this type of sublime— lit urban areas. This is troubling for a variety of reasons, both its domestication and its geographical boundary—that explains Pritchard, including the romanticizing and depo- must be scrutinized. liticizing of the natural darkness of Africa, as well as the artificially sharp delineation of illuminated (urban) zones. 2.3 T he Geographical Dualism of Artificial Lighting Here we see the reinforcing of what Light (2001) calls a geo- and Natural Darkness graphical dualism between cities, as sites of human activity, and wilderness, as the site of pristine and authentic nature. Nighttime lighting, understood and evaluated via the con- Pritchard’s title is a reference to Cronon’s “The Trouble cept of light pollution, is creating a contemporary relation with Wilderness” (1995), a critique of the concept of wilder- between lighting and darkness that is far different from the ness as morally dubious grounding for environmental eth- symbolic heritage discussed in Sect. 2.1. Artificial lighting ics. Seen as hearkening back to Romantic ideals of nature, has become so pervasive, so ubiquitous in our daily life, that Cronon argues that wilderness is a social construct reinforc- darkness has become a “sought-after luxury” (Hasenöhrl ing a human-nature divide, idealizing natural landscapes as 2014, p. 119) needing protection and preservation. Know- places devoid of humans, and as sites mainly for affluent ing and experiencing true darkness and its features takes a urbanites seeking leisure and tourism. Cronon is explicitly concerted effort, perhaps best exemplified in Bogard’s The critical of romanticized notions of sublime experiences in End of Night (2013). To experience a truly dark, or natu- wilderness, for its role in both idealizing and domesticat- ral, night sky, we must seek it out. This means escaping ing experiences of the natural world (something arguably our cities and journeying into the wild. Only away from the present in the astronomical sublime described above). By encroaching skyglow of cities is access to a starry sky, and placing the night sky within the realm of wilderness, we to the astronomical sublime, possible. In analyzing the Cam- place our urban nightscapes in a morally precarious position. paign for Dark Skies in Britain, Dunnett (2015) explains In the extended quote below, seeing “artificial lighting” and that urbanization is seen as the primary threat to dark skies, “natural darkness” as synonymous with “civilization” and creating a “moralized geography.” Here, we see the rein- “wilderness,” respectively, highlights the predicament: forcement of a conceptual divide between nature and cul- We inhabit civilization while holding some part of ture, and the resultant spatial differentiation between natural ourselves—what we imagine to be the most pre- and built environments, that has been a central concern of cious part—aloof from its entanglements. We work urban-focused environmental ethics (e.g., King 2000; Light our nine-to-five jobs in its institutions… we benefit 2001; Stefanovic 2012). In its contemporary manifestation, from the intricate and all too invisible networks with the sought-after unpolluted dark sky is categorized as some- which it shelters us, all the while pretending that thing out there, outside of cities and human activities, which these things are not an essential part of who we are. are in turn defined and bounded by artificial light. By imagining that our true home is in the wilderness, While the value of the night sky should not be solely ascribed to the contemporary effects of lighting technolo- gies, they do—at the very least—actively draw attention to Cronon (1995) is speaking explicitly about the American experi- the loss of this experience, in turn re-positioning the tech- ence and conception of wilderness. Kirchhoff and Vicenzotti (2014) nological sublime as a pollutant. Sharpe (2008, p. 24) notes discuss perceptions of wilderness from a European perspective, that “The arrival of artificial light had, almost paradoxically, which does differ but carries similar characteristics. Most important for the present discussion is the position that wilderness is constituted “invented” natural light, for no such conceptual category by “specific meanings ascribed to it according to cultural patterns of existed before the new technologies posed alternative forms interpretation” (p. 444). Furthermore, they also assert that contempo- of illumination.” Pritchard’s “The Trouble with Darkness” rary perceptions of wilderness stand in oppostion to urban spaces and (2017) places this issue in its historical and political context, human activities, and continue to embody ideas of the sublime. 1 3 486 T. Stone Fig. 2 City Lights of Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Somon, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data provided courtesy of Chris Elvidge, April–October 2012 (https :// earth obser vator y.nasa.gov/Natur alHaz ards/view.php?id=79793 ) we forgive ourselves the homes we actually inhabit. 3 T owards a Darker Future: Re‑envisioning In its flight from history, in its siren song of escape, the Urban Night Sky in its reproduction of the dangerous dualism that sets human beings outside of nature—in all of these The profound moralizing effects of artificial lighting tech - ways, wilderness poses a serious threat to respon- nologies have had far-reaching consequences, reframing sible environmentalism at the end of the twentieth lighting as a pollutant while simultaneously re-positioning century (Cronon 1995, p. 81). dark skies as a valuable natural feature worthy of protection. So entrenched is the darkness-as-wilderness association that This geographical distinction creates a discrete problem urban darkness is now perceived as somehow unnatural— frame, affecting what sort of solutions to light pollution are blackouts or other disruptions to electricity create a tempo- possible. We place the night sky—a key feature we seek to rary “artificial darkness,” before the normal state of affairs preserve and protect—outside of the boundaries of urban is reinstated (Nye 2010). But this perception can, and here I settings, which are the main culprit of skyglow. In doing argue should, be challenged. In what follows, I propose that so, we create a fallaciously clean distinction between the we actively re-envision urban nightscapes of the twenty-first natural night sky and the city, between the positive, authentic century in a way that is sensitive to the axiological dimen- astronomical sublime and the polluting technological sub- sions of artificial nighttime lighting and natural darkness. lime. Solutions then take the form of preservation (of sites of Bringing dark skies back into cities can be seen as a form of wilderness) and containment (of the impacts of urban illumi- urban restoration, discussed in Sect. 3.1. This in turn informs nation). This is helpful in advocating for dark sky reserves, how we should address the spatial distinction between the but implicitly accepts a separation of cities and nature. Like technological and astronomical sublimes, discussed in environmental ethics more generally, an ethics of nighttime Sect. 3.2. The sublimity of urban nights is examined as a lighting must also attend to the experiences and impacts design criterion that will affect how we see our urban night - found within urban spaces (see Light 2001, pp. 19–27). scapes, and ultimately what sort of restorative potential dark 1 3 Re-envisioning the Nocturnal Sublime: On the Ethics and Aesthetics of Nighttime Lighting 487 skies possess. For this, I explore the possibilities of a new effects to urban wildlife and human health. Symbolically, it urban nocturnal sublime that seeks to incorporate the mor- is an act of blurring the city-wilderness geographical dual- ally engaged aspects of the astronomical sublime into cities. ism, of taking a step towards the creation of a city aesthetic in sync with the natural rhythm of day and night—an act of 3.1 Darkening Skies as Urban Restoration letting nature back into our cities, and vice versa. Restoring urban dark skies, then, can be understood as an act of re- The unique characteristics of urban darkness require a some- orienting the ecological and cosmological sense of place for what different conception of ecological restoration than is cities and their inhabitants, of re-connecting the urban with typically debated in environmental ethics (e.g., Katz 2003; the natural. It allows for the incorporation and fostering of Light 2003). It is not an act of re-creating an aspect of nature the full spectrum of values associated with darkness, from via technological means, for the night sky is not actually efficiency and sustainability to a connection to nature (see destroyed; it is only cut off from experience. Acts of restora- Stone 2018). tion are therefore focused on the technology that mediates our The restorative potential of dark skies can also extend nighttime experiences. The analysis above reveals, at least in to socio-political concerns over the separation of wilder- part, how contemporary meaning has been ascribed to dark ness from cities. The embedded-ness of values and politics skies, and what the implications are for an urban environ- in technologies has been acknowledged at least since Win- mental ethic. This geographical dualism can be seen as a ner’s seminal article “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” (1980), socially constructed response to the effects of our lighting and lighting technologies are no different. If anything, their technologies, and challenged in a conscientious way. How longevity of influence, as well as ubiquity, makes lighting we light (and how we have lit our nights in the past) plays infrastructure unavoidably political. Like wilderness, dark in active role in co-constituting our perceptions and under- sky reserves are a site of leisure and tourism far outside cit- standing of the night and of darkness, and will continue to do ies, raising questions of accessibility (Light 2001; Pritchard so (Verbeek 2011). The mediating influence of our lighting 2017). Bringing dark skies back into cities is certainly not a infrastructure thus embodies both the primary challenge, and silver bullet, but there is the potential to address issues such opportunity, to re-orient our urban nightscapes. as accessibility to nature, in turn re-positioning the (environ- In arguing for an urban environmental ethic, King (2000) mental) moral status of urban nightscapes. discusses the built environment’s influence over our ability Restoring urban dark skies requires the extension of to “imagine and implement an environmentally responsi- current debates about the meaning and make-up of a natu- ble world” (p. 122). King further explains that contempo- ral city (Stefanovic 2012) beyond acts of greening, to also rary cityscapes and their technologies act as an external include acts of darkening cities. This will require attention constraint, minimizing our contact with the natural world. to the over-use of lighting, combined with capitalizing on Dewdney (2004, p. 96) poetically describes the way in which the instrumental and intrinsic value of dark skies (Gallaway artificial lighting technologies now encompass our lived 2014; Stone 2018). Such an approach has begun to perco- experiences and keep darkness at bay, stating, “In a way late in the practice and discourse of professional lighting we are like miners, tunnelling with light into the bedrock designers—what Edensor (2017) calls “dark design.” We of darkness. Artificial lights carve tunnels and caverns out can see examples in the work of the lighting design firm of the night, spaces in which we can operate as if it were Concepto and their master plan for Rennes, France, which day.” Despite the benefits nighttime lighting brings, argues introduces dark zones into the city core (Concepto 2012; Dewdney, our light also confines us, and we rarely leave its Narboni 2017). Similarly, the Dark Art Movement started by boundaries. Where darkness does enter our cities, at pre- lighting designers Chris Lowe and Philip Rafael champions sent, it is largely perceived to be much different than the a conscientious usage of darkness within lighting design, experiences described in Sect. 2.2. It is often considered to contending with the “collective nyctophobia” of the profes- be unsafe and a place and time for questionable behaviours, sion (Lowe and Rafael 2011, 2014). In sum, these designers both spatially and symbolically in opposition to the values are envisioning a return of darkness to cities far different of natural darkness. from the ominous gloom of the past, rather as an environ- Bringing the night sky into cities is an act of bringing a mental good and a “re-enchantment” of the night (Edensor positively valued feature of darkness into urban settings, and 2015). of allowing us to see past our lighting technologies. The re- instating of urban dark skies can be seen as an act of urban restoration in the holistic sense, as described by de-Shalit The most common objection to reducing nighttime lighting relates (2003). Literally, it is an act of clearing the city of sky- to concerns over safety. While outside the scope of this paper, an glow and removing one type of “pollution,” bringing with overview of the contentious relationship between safety and lighting it energy and cost savings, as well as reducing the harmful can be found for example in Gaston et al. (2015). 1 3 488 T. Stone If such trends are to continue, there is a question of what humility to our urban nightscapes, and provide a renewed aesthetic principles can guide future decision-making and perspective on the value and beauty of nighttime lighting— help to position dark skies as a form of urban restoration. not as an artificial extension of day, but as its own unique de-Shalit (2003) notes that each city has its own conception space. As the architect Peter Zumthor (2010, p. 93) notes, of “the good,” or its own story, meaning that the realization Between sunset and sunrise, we furnish ourselves with of dark skies will, and likely should, manifest differently in illumination of our own making, lights that we can different contexts. And, the goal of darkening cities must switch on at will. These lights cannot be compared be prioritized in relation to other environmental and social to daylight; they are too weak and too breathless with urban issues, through processes such as the complex moral their flickering intensities and swiftly spreading shad- assessment proposed by Epting (2017). But I assert here ows. But when I do not think of these lights that we that within such decision-making processes the achievement make ourselves as an attempt to eliminate darkness, of dark skies should be a prima facie consideration in the when I think of them as night-time lights, as accentu- design of urban nightscapes. Thus, we can take first steps ated night, as intimate illuminated clearings that we towards articulating the overarching aspirations and con- carve out of the darkness, then they can become beau- straints that can guide the restoration of urban dark skies. tiful, then they can have a magic all their own. For this task, I return to the sublime. Considered in this way, restoring darker skies can also re- 3.2 In Search of a New (Urban) Nocturnal Sublime orient and re-energize the excitement and vibrancy of electri- cal illumination, and imbue it with new symbolic meaning Building on the above moral rationale is a question of what that is complimentary to the environmental value of darkness. sorts of experiences are sought after with the restoration In doing so, it can create a new experience of urban night- of urban darkness. As described in Sect. 2, the tension scapes—not the electrical sublime of the early twentieth cen- between the natural night sky and artificial illumination can tury, but a new, environmentally conscious nocturnal sublime. be understood as a clash of sublimes. The astronomical and In considering what aspects of the night sky we wish to technological sublimes were identified as two distinctive capture in cities, we can draw from recent articulations of experiences of the world at night—two types of nocturnal the sublime in environmental aesthetics. Shapshay (2013) sublime. In one, we gaze upwards at the firmament, a quasi- puts forward the idea of the thick sublime, arguing for its religious experience of the natural world. In the other, we relevance to contemporary aesthetic appreciations of the have brought the heavens down around us, supplementing environment. This type of experience goes beyond purely the starry sky for an electrified skyline. Darkening cities, as emotional, visceral responses (what Shapshay calls the thin an act of urban restoration, must explore these competing sublime) to also include an intellectual component. Hence, experiences, and seek to collapse—or at least challenge— increasing scientific knowledge—as part of an intellectual, their spatial distinction. This requires an acknowledgment reflective response—does not diminish sublime responses of the powerful features that draw people to the night sky, to the night sky. Instead, it can prompt a “more-informed and an exploration into if, and how, this can be brought into reflection on how infinitesimally small she is in the uni- cities. In doing so, we can start to envision what exactly we verse, how short a human lifespan is, and even how brief the are seeking to restore, and how this could look in practice. human species has walked this planet, in comparison with We must be wary, though, not to completely dismiss the the spatial and temporal vastness of the night sky” (Shap- value of the technological sublime as outmoded or only see shay 2013, p. 196). Importantly, such a response involves its undesirable effects. The concept of light pollution has two a reflection on humanity’s position within nature and the competing effects on understandings and experiences of city larger cosmos. Also worth noting is that Shapshay argues for nights. In one sense, it re-frames our appraisals and judg- a “secular, non-metaphysically extravagant” understanding ments. Lighting’s monumentality and scale is increasingly of the sublime in nature (p. 190), seeking to disentangle it seen as irresponsible and polluting, no longer marvelous and from religious or sacred connotations—a criticism raised by exciting. Alternatively, we can see light pollution as depre- Cronon (1995). Shapshay, however, stops short of assign- ciating the value and experience of nighttime illumination, ing the thick sublime an explicit moral weight. Although, for skyglow should not be understood as synonymous with the engagement described—awe, wonder, and humility in the technological sublime. A city encompassed by skyglow the face of nature—certainly seems to engender, or at least is washed out in a haze of light. Nighttime lighting is part make possible, morally transformative experiences. Indeed, of the basic fabric, the essential core, of contemporary cit- the thick sublime is connected to theories arguing that the ies, but over-illumination degrades its aesthetic value. A aesthetic appreciation of nature should be morally engaged backdrop of darkness can enhance the sublimity of electric (e.g., Carlson 2010). lighting. Reducing ambient illumination can introduce some 1 3 Re-envisioning the Nocturnal Sublime: On the Ethics and Aesthetics of Nighttime Lighting 489 Fig. 3 © Thierry Cohen, Paris 48°52′16″N 2012-06-17 LST 17:30, from the Darkened Cities series, courtesy Danziger Gallery, New York/ Esther Woerdehoff Gallery, Paris and the Artist (https ://thier rycoh en.com/pages /work/starl ights .html) While somewhat different in theoretical origins, Brady’s relevant, if not fundamental, to an environmental ethic: (2013) environmental sublime shares common ground with humility, wonder, respect, etc. (Hitt 1999). It is therefore Shapshay’s (2013) idea of the thick sublime. Most important this facet of the astronomical sublime that must be drawn for the present discussion is that Brady goes one step further out and incorporated into urban restoration efforts. Culti - in developing and articulating the relevance of the sublime for vating such experiences in urban settings can be understood environmental ethics. Acknowledging the criticisms raised by as an act of breaking down the barrier between urban and Cronon (1995) regarding the sublime’s role in socially con- wild nightscapes, of creating a new category of nocturnal structing wilderness, Brady nevertheless sees potential for sublime. This carries exciting potential but requires further morally transformative—or at least morally relevant—experi- work—both conceptually and technically. Envisioning and ences. Aesthetic experiences can reinforce and cultivate envi- implementing this will not be an easy task, for it requires ronmental values, although they are not a necessary condition. designing for things notoriously hard to define. “Beauty and Of particular relevance for the night sky is the humility gener- mystery: intangible qualities we all know are valuable but ated by sublime experiences. Whether through knowledge of don’t always know how to value” (Bogard 2013, p. 254). astronomy or direct experience, the night sky engenders a feel- We can see both the transformative potential, as well as the ing of the ungraspable. And, “In an important sense, aesthetic tensions, of creating a new urban nocturnal sublime in Thierry experience of this kind can bring home some of the ways we Cohen’s photo series Darkened Cities (Fig. 3). The series fea- cannot place ourselves over and above nature” (Brady 2013, tures major global cities at night—New York, London, Paris, p. 197). We see the smallness of ourselves, and experience Tokyo, Hong Kong, Rio de Janeiro, etc.—altered so as to something that we cannot place ourselves above or outside. remove all presence of artificial illumination. The cityscapes In sum, the sublime contains the possibility of putting us are then overlaid onto a night sky from a position on Earth into contact with the natural world while generating feelings around the same latitude with no skyglow (for Fig. 3, the Paris of humility and reverence. While the (natural) sublime can streets are combined with a northern Montana sky). Thus, be criticized for reinforcing the otherness of nature, this is Darkened Cities shows what these spaces could look like if not necessarily an intrinsic quality thereof. Rather, the sub- they were lit only by starlight. The images are certainly pro- lime can offer a unique experience and perspective on our vocative, and nothing short of sublime. There is a beauty and relationship with natural environment, creating experiences quietness to these photos, but also a haunting, awe-inspiring 1 3 490 T. Stone feeling—not least of all because of the juxtaposition of seem- and natural nightscapes, as well as give shape to the quali- ingly disparate geographies. It indeed reinforces the observa- ties, constraints, and ideals to strive for in urban nighttime tion by Nye (2010) that cities without light now seem some- lighting. Importantly, focusing on the impact of artificial how unnatural. To see all lighting stripped away, it feels as if lighting technologies emphasizes the control we have over something fundamental to the modern city has been removed. this dualism—nighttime illumination can either re-enforce The haunting atmosphere of the series, however, is not created long-standing connotations of light and dark, or challenge solely by the night sky above—these urban sites are also edited them in a conscientious and morally engaged way. In a nar- so as to remove all signs of human activity. Images of a Shang- row sense, this analysis contributes to a growing discourse hai highway without a single car, or downtown Paris without a on the ethics of light pollution and nighttime illumination, single person, evoke an almost post-apocalyptic scene (albeit examining the aesthetic dimensions of the issue. In a broader a serene one). It implies that to have a truly dark sky—to be sense, it introduces the nightscape as a new site of concern devoid of light pollution, and artificial light in general—cit- for urban restoration, and urban-focused environmental eth- ies also need to be devoid of human activity. The night sky is ics more generally. brought back into cities, but at the expense of urban nightlife. A key theme throughout has been the symbolic reso- In Darkened Cities, the geographical dualism of city lights and nance of lighting and darkness, and that seeing problems natural darkness is subverted, but not overcome. of nighttime lighting solely as a technical issue overlooks Cohen’s photo series is thought provoking, creating scenes key philosophical questions. Addressing light pollution is both beautiful and haunting, and powerfully communicating not exclusively a task of designing efficient lighting with an the effects of skyglow. And as works of art, not a prescriptive appropriate level of brightness and properly shielded light- statement, they need not be interpreted as visions of how city ing fixtures. Nor can it be reduced to a task of creating new nights should be. But they do provide a visual counter-position policies that reduce illumination (or costs) by x% at night, to our cities as they exist, a supplanting of the technological although all such efforts are undoubtedly important. It is also sublime with the astronomical sublime. In doing so, it reminds about seeing darkness differently; about finding new mean- us that the geographical divide between city nights and dark ing, and ultimately value, in darkness. And as discussed skies is a construct, and a result of our abundant artificial light- here, the night sky—an experience that is at once beautiful, ing. The starry night sky is not truly gone, or only out there, sublime, and awe-inspiring—can be immensely powerful. It but temporarily hidden behind our pervasive illumination. In can provide cities with an ecological and cosmological sense this sense, Cohen’s series provides an opposing extreme to of place, and allow residents to glimpse beyond the artificial our current nightscapes, allowing for a consideration of where illumination that now dominates our lives. In doing so, it on such a spectrum we should strive to situate actual urban may allow us to see our cities in a new light. nightscapes. It is worth imagining a Darkened Cities image Acknowledgements I wish to thank my many colleagues who gave with a vibrant, active city below the night sky—a city that does useful feedback on earlier drafts of this paper: Pieter Vermaas, Jathan not completely cast out the benefits and aesthetics of electric Sadowski, Georgy Ishmaev, Jonas Feltes, Klara Pigmans, Christine lighting for a natural night sky, but seeks to merge the two. Milchram, and Thijs Slot. I also wish to thank the anonymous review- Certainly not as bright as our current city nights, and perhaps ers for their helpful comments. Finally, I am very grateful to Thierry Cohen and Tyler Nordgren for granting me permission to use their not featuring a pristine, completely unpolluted night sky, but a original artwork in this paper. re-oriented urban nightscape nonetheless. This may not allow for the experiences referenced in Nordgren’s Milky Way post- Compliance with Ethical Standards ers (Fig. 2) within downtown cores, but that need not be the final goal for a new urban nocturnal sublime. Instead, it can Conflict of interest The author declares that he has no conflict of inter - offer a new relationship between the stars above and the lights est. below. It allows for a re-imagining of urban nights and all the Research Involving Human and Animal Rights This article does not possibilities that come along with it. contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by the author. 4 Conclusion Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Crea- tive Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creat iveco This paper has engaged with the contemporary axiologi- mmons.or g/licenses/b y/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribu- cal dimensions of nighttime illumination and darkness, tion, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the focusing on the geographical dualism reinforced by dif- Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. fering manifestations of the sublime. 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