Bright ideas

When we think about cities and what makes them, what comes to mind first? Buildings, transportation corridors, commercial activity, people all certainly come to mind. But what about street lights? Where would we be without those? And since Wabash, Indiana became the first electrically-lighted city in the world in 1880, has anything fundamentally changed in our approach to street lighting? 

Until recently, the answer was a resounding no. From arc lamps to incandescents, cobra heads to Silverliners, street lights have been nothing more and nothing less than their name suggests since they were first deployed in Antioch in the fourth century. But that’s all about to change.

Mimicking a trend in the telecom sector, streetlights are becoming hosts for a number of co-locations. Some areas are adding solar panels onto existing streetlights. Others are taking things a step further. In Los Angeles, Royal Philips is deploying 4G-capable LED Smart Lights. 

In another interesting project, the Regional Municipality of Halifax in Nova Scotia recently partnered with Silver Springs Networks to develop a smart lighting grid with 43,000 lights to cover the 2,500 square miles within its jurisdiction. The lights are connected to a monitoring system that allows the municipality to control brightness and monitor the massive system for outages and interruptions from a single control room. 

And as BlackRock showed in their deal with Detroit, there aren’t too many environmentalists out there trying to stop private equity from putting in greener lightbulbs. Well, unless the lightbulbs are actually all green because that would cause traffic problems.