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Apparently This Matters: L.A.'s fancy new streetlights

Story highlights

  • In 2009, Los Angeles started a project to replace more than 140,000 streetlights
  • The new LED lamps created a distinctly different look for the city at night
  • Filmmaker Dave Kendricken recently wrote that this is having a major impact on film industry

Let me tell you about the time I spent $388.58 replacing a single light bulb.

It all started several years ago when one of the fixtures in my kitchen burned out. Which was no big deal. It happens.

So, naturally, I drove to Home Depot to buy a replacement -- a task that, in total, should have required 20 minutes, $5 and one calorie of actual physical labor.

And pants.

(I was down to my last strike. Couldn't risk it.)

The light bulb I actually needed was right there in front of me, patiently waiting to be purchased, taken home and screwed into the ceiling so I could get on with my life.

    Which, to be fair, was nothing more than an unimpressive collection of naps and long spells of heavy mouth breathing.

    "Apparently This Matters" Is Jarrett Bellini's weekly (and somewhat random) look at social-media trends.

    It still is.

    But then, as I stood there, I saw these new LED lights, and immediately I was fascinated, for they were both efficient AND sexy, like a German supermodel.

    They were also really REALLY expensive. As in, unjustifiably expensive. Yet, I just had to have one because, you know ... shiny things. Yay!

    So, I dropped $40 on a light bulb. And it was glorious.

    However, I soon learned that one does not simply replace a single bulb in the house with a completely new type of light that is different from all the others. Apparently, this is how people end up in mental hospitals.

    "Where's Jarrett?"

    "Outside directing traffic in a bathrobe."

    Thus, nearly $400 (and many hours) later, I had replaced every fixture in the entire house. Literally every fixture. And then I just sat there on the floor, basking in the warm glow of my new lights, silently wondering, "What the hell just happened?"

    On a much smaller scale, I basically accomplished what Los Angeles has been working on for several years: updating every single streetlight in the city.

    Which is no simple task.

    "Say, Carl, are you busy?"

    You see, in February 2009, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced a partnership with the Clinton Climate Initiative to swap out more than 140,000 bulbs with these fancy new energy-efficient, longer-lasting light-emitting diodes.

    It was an expensive undertaking, requiring countless man hours. But, ultimately, this would save the city millions of dollars.

    And it's working.

    Upon completion of this first major phase in June, Los Angeles was already enjoying energy reduction of over 60% and carbon emissions reduced by nearly 50,000 metric tons per year.

    Bill Clinton noted that it was like taking almost 10,000 cars off the road.

    Mind you, those 10,000 cars are still ON the road. Because it's Los Angeles. And traffic is the official state sport.

    In all, it was the world's largest LED retrofit. And, without question, the light is growing brighter now.

    Much brighter. Or at least whiter.

    Which is why the project sort of found its way back into the news this week when Dave Kendricken wrote an eye-opening story about the project's impact on L.A.'s film industry.

    Kendricken's popular article appeared on the No Film School website and suggested that Hollywood movies will never again look the same because of these new streetlights.

    "Environmentally speaking, this is a good thing," Kendricken writes. "Though it's easy to get a little nostalgic."

    Quite simply, Los Angeles has lost its signature yellow glow in favor of a more surgically white, autopsy-table shine from the LEDs.

    It was the old sodium-vapor lamps that provided the unmistakable artificial warm light, and they were once considered both cheap and efficient.

    But not anymore.

    And the new bulbs change everything.

    Kendricken explains that "in a sense, every night exterior L.A.-shot film previous to this change is rendered a sort of anthropological artifact, an historic document of obsolete urban infrastructure."

    However, that's not necessarily a bad thing. At least if you can get past the nostalgia.

    From a filming perspective, Kendricken argues that "the LEDs should very well prove a benefit to existing-light photography -- better for the environment, and in nearly every case, better for cinematography."

    That, of course, is a healthy debate for serious film nerds. As for me, I don't particularly care for the white light; the LEDs in my house are tinted for warmth.

    But I DO like energy savings and can say that, in my case, despite the initial cost, I certainly don't regret retrofitting my house.

    Now, years later, the electric bills seem lower, and I've yet to have a single bulb go out.

    Which is to say there has been no disturbance in the force.

    Commence naps and long spells of heavy mouth breathing.

    Follow @JarrettBellini on Twitter.

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