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Nathan Road Tours To Expose Lighting Abuses

Green group says it will show visitors the wasteful use of garish signs by businesses

Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP – Updated on May 13, 2008

A green group is organising tours along bustling Nathan Road to expose what it says is the city’s abuse of, and obsession with, lighting.

The tours aim to challenge the common perception that the colourful neon signs and commercial lights are a sign of prosperity and affluence.

It is part of the group’s campaign against light pollution in Hong Kong.

A lights-out event will be held on June 21 and so far, 38 buildings, including iconic ones in Central, have agreed to join.

Organiser Friends of the Earth said the tours, starting on June 6, would target locals and visitors from the mainland and Taiwan. The group has written to the Travel Industry Council asking for co-operation.

Tour participants will be led to 10 spots along Nathan Road that the group says represent the city’s distorted lighting culture, which wastes energy and disturbs residents’ lives.

A survey by the group found 1,693 neon signs hanging from exterior walls and commercial displays using spotlighting along the 3.6km road from Tsim Sha Tsui to Boundary Street. Eleven sites had at least 20 spotlights, with one in Cheong Hing Plaza, Prince Edward, having 76. Some were near residences but remained switched on at 4am.

Some outlets selling luxury goods were lit up well after closing for the day, when there were no shoppers around.

The group said people on the free tours would see a jewellery retailer’s neon sign in Jordan that changed and flashed 21 times a minute, some blank advertisement boards lit by rows of spotlights, and overlapping neon signs fighting for shoppers’ attention in Mong Kok.

The green group’s environmental affairs manager, Hahn Chu Hon-keung, said Friends of the Earth was not totally against neon signs and commercial lighting, but there was room to minimise their impact on residents and the environment.

“These spotlights and flashing neon signs are proliferating, but there is a vacuum of rules governing them. This is a problem we cannot afford to ignore,” he said.

Edward Ng Yan-yung, a professor of architecture at Chinese University, said Hong Kong should consider enacting a master plan tailored to various land uses and limit the brightness of individual neon signs and commercial lighting.

He said overseas countries allowed only important landmarks such as government buildings or historic architecture to be lit with spotlights.

“We are definitely not against lighting,” Professor Ng said. “But it seems that we are about to enter a vicious cycle where people are competing against each other on the brightness level and the public is being forced to adapt to brighter and brighter lights.”

He said lights could still have a visual impact even if they were dimmed, as long as there was a contrast between light and dark.

Professor Ng warned that if the trend continued, Hong Kong would not just be over-lit, it would aggravate the urban heat-island effect.

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