Protect Our Right To Light

In the April 25 issue of Nature, in the Comment section, there is an excellent article entitled “Protect Our Right To Light”:

It’s a serious issue around the world, and one we are particularly attuned to in downtown Seattle, as our building boom continues without regard to human health and well-being. As the article points out, dense, highrise development comes at a huge price. Placing tall buildings close together slashes levels of natural light in and around them, threatening human health. 

The article points out that evidence is emerging of the widespread health effects of chronic low exposure to natural light, from vitamin D deficiency to short [near]-sightedness. Daylight is vital for our physical health and mental well-being. Natural light drives basic biological processes, from circadian rhythms to sleep and mood. A lack of natural light during winter has been linked to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and depression. As societies age, the links between a lack of sunlight, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease should be explored, as well as whether there is any relation between daylight exposure and increased chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

And dense, dark cities will be energy-hungry and unsustainable. By ignoring the benefits of sunlight, cities will also miss goals for sustainability, including reducing carbon emissions and energy use. Sunshine is free, and a building designed to capitalize on that can have 20–60% lower energy costs for lighting and heating. Sunshine also promotes the growth of urban trees and vegetation that absorb carbon dioxide and air pollution, thus cleaning the air and lowering greenhouse-gas emissions.

As the authors say, on a local level, city authorities, urban planners and policymakers must prioritize good ‘daylighting’ — sufficient access to natural light to improve public health and quality of life. Access to natural light must be integrated into the early stages of urban planning.

The article recommends that the public should be consulted on all planning applications and be made aware of legal pathways to defend their right to daylight. The upholding of recent lawsuits against developers to maintain these rights in the United Kingdom and China, and rejections of tall buildings by planning authorities in [some parts of] the United States, lights the way.

Developers need to balance human health with profit. Otherwise they will kill the goose that laid the golden egg for them here in Seattle.