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As part of an ongoing effort to make content more accessible, LAM will be making select stories available to readers in Spanish. 

BY TIMOTHY A. SCHULER

FROM THE DECEMBER 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

If you lived in Paris in the 17th century, you paid the taxe des boues et lanternes, the tax on mud and lanterns. The levy paid for the maintenance of the city’s streets and its system of lanterns, a network of some 5,000 tallow candles suspended in glass cases 20 feet above Paris’s streets, and one of the earliest examples of public street lighting in the world.

The inventor of this early illumination system was not a city planner or a scientist but Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie, considered to be the city’s first police chief. Since its earliest days, “public lighting was closely connected with the police,” writes the cultural historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch. The high-strung lanterns in Paris were “beacons in the city, representing law and order,” while the paid torch bearers who wandered Paris’s streets providing supplemental illumination also doubled as police informants.

Today, street lighting and surveillance are as tightly enmeshed as ever, as manufacturers proffer networked luminaires with embedded sensors that are capable of feeding enormous amounts of data into proprietary operating systems, turning the city into what the writer Geoff Manaugh, author of A Burglar’s Guide to the City, describes as a “forensic tool for recording its residents.”

“It’s very Fahrenheit 451,” says Linnaea Tillett, Affiliate ASLA, the founder and principal of Tillett Lighting Design Associates, which specializes in lighting for outdoor spaces. “You have a light pole that can listen to you, watch you, and it’s all hidden.” (more…)

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