Using lighting to send a message is becoming more prominent in municipalities across the country. Lights can be used as celebration for holidays and to show solidarity with other cities and countries when tragedy strikes such as in France, Belguim and Orlando, Fla.
James Freed, city manager of Port Huron, Mich., also used lighting to honor police officers worldwide. Using blue lights loaned to them by Philips Lighting specifically for that purpose, Freed arranged to have two thin, blue lines light up the Municipal Office Center for approximately three weeks. They received a huge, positive community response.
Big River Crossing
Previously a Harahan Bridge wagonway turned abandoned steel structure, Big River Crossing has gained international coverage as the bridge over the Mississippi River connecting Memphis, Tenn., and West Memphis, Ark. Cara Greenstein, public relations and social media manager at Doug Carpenter and Associates, relayed the story of how Big River Crossing came into existence.
Local citizens thought it would make a good bike and pedestrian trail, so a local entrepreneur and philanthropist, Charlie McVean, teamed up with Congressman Steven Cohen to make it a reality. McVean filled two private planes with prominent Memphis citizens to travel to Omaha, Neb. They successfully convinced Union Pacific Railroad to work with Memphis, Tenn., to build Big River Crossing.
Congressman Cohen then led the effort to secure a $15 million federal transportation grant to lead project funding. Countless partners worked together to raise the public and private funds necessary for completion.
The bridge opened on Oct. 22, 2016, and houses over 80,000 energy-efficient LED lights provided by Philips Lighting. According to Greenstein’s information, the number of lights “offer an expanded palette of more than 16.7 million intensely saturated colors or finely tuned pastels and hues in a variety of beam angles so that the full volume and depth of the bridge is showcased.”
Hundreds of possible configurations and light distribution patterns are available, including “static displays or dynamic color shows that can be programed to commemorate special events, holidays and important civil causes.” It was recently pink for Easter, green for Earth Day and the colors of Colombia’s flag as this year’s honored country in the Beale Street Music Festival.
In the first six weeks alone over 65,000 pedestrians and cyclists experienced Big River Crossing, which introduces a “grand, unmatched perspective of the Memphis skyline and rushing Mississippi River.” It also won the prestigious American Architecture Award, which was juried in Athens, Greece.
The locals are experiencing a revived affinity for the waterfront thanks to Big River Crossing, and the interconnectivity between Memphis and Arkansas has positively affected the economic development of the trailheads. Property values of homes with a view of the bridge are also expected to rise. The bridge, linking not only two towns but two states, “marks a physical and metaphorical feat of the tristate Greenprint development, serving as a driver for continued developments in the area.”
In order to create a “must-see” destination with a light display that wasn’t purely ornamental, Aaron Perri, executive director of South Bend, Ind., Venues, Parks and Arts, worked with artist Rob Shakespeare. The South Bend River Lights were installed in 2015 as a part of the city’s sesquicentennial celebration.
As part of the interactive display, Shakespeare “designed built-in programming that responds to various movements at eight different sculptures on each bank of the river. In addition to the interactive element, the artistic display of light changes cycles through various shows each evening – turning the cascades and bridge into a dynamic and artistic canvas.” The lights also have “secrets,” according to Perri, such as the ability to tell time and flashing the time in synchronicity at the top of each hour. The River Lights change seasonally with special colors for holidays and settings for major victories by Notre Dame or the South Bend Cubs.
Perri stated, “The lights can be changed to reflect the city’s mood at any time. Our city has come together at the River Lights to stand in solidarity with France, Orlando and Belgium. We honor our police force and celebrate alongside community organizations. The night Prince passed away, it was raining so the lights quickly got in the spirit to pay homage via a ‘Purple Rain’ display.”
The River Lights total project cost was approximately $800,000 and has become a symbol of civic pride that also evokes emotion. It was funded almost entirely by private donations, corporate gifts, grants and donations of material and labor. However, according to Perri, the city is hoping “to expand upon its success by introducing complementary light installations along other portions of our Riverwalk.”
Although costly, creative lighting displays send their own message that the city is a place to visit. Not only do light displays help make the city a destination for tourism, they can also bring about a greater sense of unity and pride within the community.