AURORA URBANA. The uncanny beauty of Riga's suburban light pollution.

When the darkness of winter approaches Riga again, a specific type of "noise" pops out more than usual. It's the city lights that bring up cinematic, emotional feelings to some people, but cause lots of annoyance for others . I think, however, in some cases the overexposed capital at night might actually look impressive if viewed from distance.

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Aurora Urbana over the Vecmīlgrāvis container terminal and further as seen from East Mangaļsala, Riga.

Riga is relatively well protected from environmental pollution, but we ought to really fix the air (mostly because of the traffic and the harbour area) and noise (including road constructions mysteriously carried out at nights and mufflerless motorcycles).
Then comes the slowly waning yet present pollution of design, both visual and spatial. With more and more personnel occupied in the creative industries these days, we have reached the critical mass of demanding better shop signs, ads, billboards, bus stops et cetera, you name it. Also more and more attention (theoretically) gets paid to the looks of parks, streets, creative spaces, and other areas owned by the public. How much of that will result in an actually improved well-being of the visual urban environment in the future, will see. One thing is clear - the wave of the "New European Bauhaus" strategy might fix many things with its "beautiful, sustainable, together" philosophy.

Yet the most beautiful of all the bad guys in Riga is the pollution of light. Perhaps, here lies the reason of why we don't discuss about it often - most of times, we tolerate the light and the surplus it creates more than other sources of noise. Maybe brighter streets seem more beautiful, maybe because they seem safer (although, none of that is granted), therefore we let it slide.

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Aurora Urbana over Jūrmala as seen from Hapaka grāvis at East Kleisti, Riga.

It has been the new black for a while now to decorate buildings with light elements in urban areas. Even when some facades are being overly illuminated, they still seem better looking than not illuminated at all. Budapest comes to mind as the first choice, where good light design has been applied a lot around the city (mostly, the centre); Jūrmala, a town nearby the capital, is proud of its longest winter light road in Latvia. Other than that, there really are no strict guidelines in Latvia to what sources/spectrum of lighting we should use (maybe the exception here is Kuldīga, a town west of Riga, that has regulations to only use warmer tones).
Riga, on the contrary, often becomes the palace of either poorly installed wires or low quality lamps or bulbs. Because so many newly renovated buildings have their lighting decorations malfunctioned in a week when the whole thing starts to twinkle and flash randomly, turning into some stroboscope of a dance club. Really don't want to be the person living opposite the street.
However, there is one overly annoying source of light in the centre that follows the tradition of Times Square, New York (with much more "enthusiasm" in Riga); obviously, it is hated by everyone. We are speaking about every electronic billboard and public LED screen, causing lots of complaints from all - pedestrians, drivers, cyclists, residents, and guests. Part of the "noise" is maybe the debatable quality of the ads. But the scapegoat here are the terribly bright, legislatively uncontrollable settings, making the billboard be seen, probably, from space (maybe the target audience for those ads are aliens, who knows).
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One out of several eyesores everyone once crossing the Gaisa bridge knows. Practically because the image has been burned into our retina forever before the screens got dimmed recently.

When commenting the development of fighting light pollution at least in the public sector, I have a wee comment from Valters Krasts and Edmunds Krēsle, both working at the city agency "Rīgas gaisma": "The main cause of light pollution is wrongly projected or reflected light. When buying and using LED technologies today, we are fitting the sources of light with specially designed lens that adjust the flow of light. It, thus, also limits the dispersion noise significantly.
Our specification demands lamps to have 0 candela of luminous intensity for rays 90° angles or above. When setting up street LED lights, our agency ensures the diodes are dimmed from 0:00 - 5:00 at nights. However, it will be impossible to avoid all light pollution for various reasons. For example, there are many bodies of water in Riga, the city also faces long periods of snowfall and rain. It all reflects a lot of light rays."

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Aurora Urbana over Bolderāja as seen from Hapaka grāvis at East Kleisti, Riga.
What saves Riga from being overly polluted with excessive light, are the large-enough distances one can measure when on a hike or ride. The light from industrial zones blend with the textures of nature from afar. I call them the urban auroras and have included some as illustrations to this text. Should you be interested in seeing more, reach the far suburbs and find some aurora urbana yourself!

Mārtiņš Eņģelis