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Los Angeles Changes Color

Adam Rogers chronicles Los Angeles' long and intimate relationship with the electric light. The city's recent choice to adopt LED streetlights has transformed a classic nighttime into something new.
November 24, 2015, 8am PST | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Vincent Diamante

Los Angeles' LED streetlights are efficient, but the light they emit is a harsh blue-white. Adam Rogers writes, "The color of the city is changing, literally [...] at night, lights bring color back to LA—in a characteristic, unnatural spectrum. Now that spectrum is changing, which means the city's identity will be transformed, too."

Just like in New York, the city switched to the new lights for pragmatic reasons. "LEDs last years longer and kick out more than double the light per watt. Their lighter draw on the grid appealed to then-mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who wanted the city to have a smaller carbon footprint. Ebrahimian predicted saving $7 million a year on electricity and $2.5 million in maintenance." LEDs also have smart city potential, such as blinking to indicate the approach of emergency vehicles.

But streets and buildings lit by LEDs, arguably, just aren't the same. "LEDs, for example, look white or blue-white to the naked eye. But they often drop the blues or reds at either end of the spectrum. Things that would look yellowish under full-spectrum sun or incandescent light may look white under LEDs. Skin tones look unnatural, even dead."

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Published on Monday, November 16, 2015 in BOOM: A Journal of California
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