click images for larger viewThe fad of the cactus lamp died out decades ago, but it lives on in Lightscape, a series of a dozen clusters of 9-foot-tall "prairie grass" lights that has just been unveiled down State Street that, according a report in Crain's Chicago Business, cost a cool $1 million. It replaces the traditional holiday lighting on the street, for which Crain's quotes the Chicago Loop Alliance as saying cost about $120,000 a year. Only 9 years to breakeven.
The project reeks of the usual greenwashing (we're saving thousands of dollars in electricity, and it only cost a million!) and hype, from the self-congratulatory claim that now they won't have to just throw away all the lights each year (as if the whole point of the exercise wasn't to encourage shoppers to buy tons of stuff they'll hopefully mostly throw away by next year so they'll have to do it all over again), to descriptions of the anemic displays as "setting the Loop ablaze."
Even if all this comes to pass, however, the bottom line is this: Lightscape is a lightweight - a supply-chain, one-size-fits-all solution for a shopping district that desperately needs a distinctive identity. Again according to Crain's, funding for Lightscape not only has killed off traditional holiday decorations, but it's also resulting in pulling the plug on the work of real, distinctive artists who exhibited in the "pop-up" art galleries in empty State Street storefronts. Loop Alliance director Ty Tabing told Crain's they're no longer necessary. He may wind up being the only guy actually blinded by Lightscape's dim light.