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  • Writer's pictureBrittany Lynch

Lighting Ordinances - How to Achieve the Right Lighting Solution?


A group takes a nighttime lighting survey

At Clanton & Associates, when we begin the process of writing a new lighting ordinance, we always start by asking the most important question a lighting designer can ask:

“How do you create a lighting ordinance that provides the framework to achieve the right lighting solution?”

It is a question that depends heavily on the community we are working with and so, each time our journey of lighting ordinance writing begins, we answer it by connecting with the people who will be most affected by our work and by asking them to join us on a nighttime walk through the streets of their home.


The goal of this walk is to try and get to the bottom of the second part of our question. What is the right lighting solution? For non-lighting nerds, diving into the core values of a community to understand their lighting needs, especially on a cold spring night, seems like a tough ask, but it never is! Participants tend to be incredibly engaged, passionate, and animated in their opinions. Why does discussing a lighting ordinance evoke so much emotion? Because light is important to our communities and, if we want our communities to function, we need to understand the answer to our big question.


That task starts out simple, for example, let’s take our recent jaunt to Aspen in the cold and snowy Colorado spring. We started by identifying a half dozen sites to evaluate the outdoor lighting. Then, we gather our group of interested designers, plan reviewers, city council members, and stakeholders to view each site location and to take a survey evaluating the outdoor lighting. We make sure to ask questions like “Do you like what’s happening over here?” and “How do you feel in this environment compared to the one down the block?”, this helps us to understand the needs of the Aspen community and how the ordinance that we write will affect their enjoyment of this environment.


It is important to be purposeful in how we design our nighttime environment. Oftentimes a lighting designer is called in when things get so bad that the complaints become overwhelming or when, for one reason or another, old codes can no longer be enforced. This can be a stressful situation and it is easy to become overwhelmed the process. But there is hope! Even though our survey participants are not a part of the professional lighting community, they care deeply about their lighting environment. We must continue to engage these stakeholders to bring clarity and to better understand the community’s needs.


As a lighting designer, I love talking to people about light. It might be my favorite part of my job. We all experience light, so it’s easy to engage with others. What I learned on this site visit is that we often sell the experience of light short. People are passionate about their community’s environment, and within that environment, there are a lot of strong opinions about lighting.


As designers, we need to listen, we need to lean in, and then we need to listen again. Then we can begin to tackle the question, how do you create a lighting ordinance that provides the framework to achieve the right lighting solution? Because even after we answer it once, we need to keep coming back to it again and again. In design, there is no “right” answer, but only something that can stand within its own context.


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