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Dim It Down Hong Kong, Your City’s Too Bright

  • SumoMe

The phrase “our future’s bright” fails to be a joyous one when the element of light itself has already been deemed a nuisance. While most of us have no problems with the astounding shine from lighted billboards and advertisements, others are struggling to fall asleep in the midst of these bright lights. That’s because just outside the windows of their homes, the intensity of these luminous billboards are invading what residential areas should rightly provide – privacy. For these residents in Hong Kong, the day literally never ends.

An article by Penny C

It’s looks all wonderful and jazzy to tourists and locals alike as they travel through the sights of this vibrant city in the evening. It’s time to whip out that camera for some city shots! However, some environmental groups having been wishing that could see more of the stars in the sky and less of the neon lights that scream billboard messages and outline the shapes of city’s skyscrapers. It becomes pretty apparent that light pollution is developing into a massive national issue when even the local people are calling for the country to dim down.

In Leighton Road, a resident uses a large cloth to block out the glowing hostility of the church's spotlight outside the apartment

In Leighton Road, a resident uses a large cloth to block out the glowing hostility of the church's spotlight outside the apartment

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What you see is what you get

Many of the buildings in high traffic commercial districts such as Mong Kok, Causeway Bay and Central are also guilty of wasteful lighting practices. Including the large industrial billboards, shopping malls and offices continue to light up the streets and many times, into the homes of residents whose apartments aren’t even situated directly opposite the these luminous architectures. These structures remain lit until 5AM when the sun’s up and nature’s ready to continue the job for them.

Flash Mob

Windsor House

Windsor House

Getting public messages across in a ‘flash mob style’ is so amusing that it actually works. The Windsor House in Causeway Bay was voted as having the most ridiculous lighting by netizens through an online poll organised by Friends of The Earth (HK). The winning feature was its ability to outshine the brightness of a normal office by 20 times with a luminance level of 10,000 lux. This title has obviously coined the building’s efforts to stand out as an extreme waste of energy.

To further emphasise Windsor House’s ludicrous glow, a flash-mob demonstration was orchestrated by the Friends of the Earth (HK). Crowds had gathered outside the building to petition against the building’s incessant and unnecessary brilliance as they wielded umbrellas and stayed protected with sunglasses to ‘avoid being burnt’ by its radiant glory. Thankfully enough, Windsor House did cave in and decided to dim it down after this incident.

Why Do They Do It?

Prada lit at night in Hong Kong

Prada Hong Kong

Corporations view this as a competitive act in attracting shoppers at night and also to draw attention from potential business partners. This argument was further highlighted in the case of a bank in Central which had disregarded a resident’s complaint about the bright neon signs on its Garden Road Tower being a nuisance. The bank responded against the complaint, citing that because of its prime location in Central –“the heart of commercial activities”, the neon lights had to be on. You got it right. The plan is to literally outshine each other.

The Plight of Residents

In 2005, the case in Tai Wai when a neon sign of a restaurant was installed against the objection of the owners' corporation, which caused three families to flee. Some chose to stage a sit-in protest against the glaring neon signboard.

In 2005, an illegal neon sign of a restaurant caused some families to move away while others chose to stage a sit-in protest against the glaring neon signboard.

This is a problem. It doesn’t matter if these people live in the old housing developments of Hong Kong where apartments were incorporated along the busy shopping districts or in high-rise, private accommodations, residents are not spared of the dazzling backlash.

Light pollution in such a measure affects the health and overall well being of these city dwellers. Sleep is affected and studies in US have found that excessive unnatural lighting can induce stress and increase hypertension, aggravating cardiovascular disease. When the constant exposure to unhealthy and excessive illumination, the effect disrupts melatonin production in our bodies and increases the risks of heart problems. Where’s the love, people?

To combat the disturbances caused by the inconsiderate neon lights that shine through the windows, residents have resorted to doing all they can to keep the darkness in. Residents of Yan Ming Sour (a residential housing estate) have been keeping their curtains drawn to avoid the illumanted Metro City Shopping mall which is situated nearby. It’s no joke when some residents had to even place boards against the window where light still seeps through.

A resident Ms. Yau living in Pak Tin Estate found it difficult to fall asleep with a beaming streetlight outside the window.

A resident of Pak Tin Estate tries her best to sleep with the glaring streetlight.

The young and old face the same problem. Some elderly residents in Mong Kok haved turned to sleeping in their living rooms to evade the intensity of illegally constructed signboards that shine their messages into their bedrooms. Things only got worse when authorities took over a year to remove these nuisances. In some cases, families were forced to move out when nothing was done to eradicate these glaring signboards that were affecting their lives.

Grandma Fung, living in Mongkok, was forced to sleep in the living room to escape from the light-intruded bedroom facing an illegally propped signboard.

Apartments affected by the signboards

It took the Buildings Department over a year to remove the glowing signboard.

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From the inside

Rescue Help
This insensitive act of lighting up the entire city with excessive beams, spotlights and blinking neon characters consume a massive amount of energy as they find their place in both the shopping districts as well as residential areas. Light pollution never was so crazy.

Residents in Tai Wai having banners from a flat protesting against the neon sign.

Residents in Tai Wai having banners from a flat protesting against the neon sign.

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Banners in protest

HK Dim it down 10

Looking out the window

There are no legal regulations governing this aspect of Hong Kong’s commercial lifestyle and so little could be done to curb these actions. But that doesn’t mean that nothing can be done. Rather than subjecting it to oppressive and somewhat contrived regulations, there is a grasp that this environmental issue should be managed with much concern and understanding. Seriously, you can’t strip a zebra of its stripes and expect it to stay sane.

Dim It Campaign

HK Dim it down 11On June 21, 2009, Friends of the Earth (HK) has since started the Dim It Campaign. This charter invites corporations in Hong Kong to sign a pledge to be a conscientious earth neighbour by switching off outdoor neon signs or decorative lightings from midnight to save energy consumption, reduce light pollution and nuisances.

The Dim It Campaign emphasises on avoiding energy squandering and switching off lights, outdoor neon signs no later than 12AM. It also highlights the need to avoid light nuisances by pledging to avoid overly bright outdoor lighting and propping lights on the envelope of residential buildings.

As this campaign is against excessive and annoying lighting, guidelines have been set up for corporations to adhere to in residential areas:

* Avoid using overly bright or flashing neon signs facing households. Turn the neon signs off no later than 11pm to reduce light nuisances and save energy;

* For lights facing away from households, turn them off at no later than midnight to cut energy consumption;

* Be a good neighbour. If the use of outdoor neon signs for publicity is inevitable, avoid having it propped up on the exterior wall of the residential building in consideration of residents;

* Respond to the complaints against light pollution or nuisances by reducing the luminosity of neon signs or turning them off early.

* Note: The Charter makes an exception for special occasions like holidays when extension of lighting hours may be accommodated as long as the principle of appropriateness and reason is observed.

Change takes times but there are indeed steps in place to push it forward. Urging businesses to be environmentally conscientious and socially responsible requires diligent efforts, especially when this is a long standing situation where minimal regulation has been in place over the years. It’s a disappointing and harmful cycle when businesses are trying flourish at the expense of the civilians. We get that the aim is to heighten the economic growth by why shot yourselves in the foot while at it? Fortunately, the manner in which Friends of the Earth (HK) has been approaching this matter with an understanding attitude towards the inevitable rigidities surrounding this matter is steadily being appreciated by the communities all over the island.

Just look at the difference it would make if businesses consumed less energy and spared an environmentally friendly thought. It’s a sight we’d rarely see.

Commercial District Lit - Earth Hour 09

Commercial District Lit - Earth Hour 09

Commercial District Dimmed - Earth Hour 09

Commercial District Dimmed - Earth Hour 09

In fact, have look at a little tongue in cheek stab at the rational of having shopping malls lit at 4AM. What are the odds of people actually seeing the buildings in all its colourful splendour? Take a hint from this video created by Friends of the Earth (HK). You’ll be well amused. Clever!

Visit e.Energy Lighting Limited or Friends of The Earth (HK) for more information on Hong Kong’s bright lights.

Photo Credits: Friends of The Earth (HK) &


  1. haha this is a good post. i like that video by the friends of the earth. very creative.

    • Hi there and thanks for dropping by!
      That video really is quite cool eh? Nothing like an Ad with a sense of sarcastic humour to get a message across :)

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