A dimly lit concern for safety

Illustration by Dominic Davies

If it isn’t already obvious, Flagstaff gets really dark once the sun goes down.

The streetlights in Flagstaff are either a dimly lit orange color that illuminates approximately 5 feet of the street below or, depending on the location, there simply aren’t any streetlights for a mile down the road.

There is a justifiable reason for this.

As stated on the city of Flagstaff’s official website, “The City of Flagstaff holds the distinct honor of being designated by the International Dark-Sky Association as the world’s first Dark Sky Community in 2001.”

Getting Flagstaff on the map with this unique distinction is great. I love this little mountain town, but that’s not to say that it is without its flaws.

According to the city’s website, “As an International Dark Sky City, Flagstaff strives to meet certain standards with regards to light pollution. Flagstaff has been recognized for its pioneering work in the development and implementation of lighting codes that balance the need to preserve Flagstaff’s dark sky resource with the need for safe lighting practices.”

Sustainability and environmental policy are very important to me. I try to live as sustainably, yet comfortably, as possible.

However, as a young woman I would rather prioritize being able to see where I’m walking or driving farther than 50 feet in front of me once the sun goes down.

If there’s a chance of getting abducted or stalked when I walk home alone at night, it would be really helpful if I could actually be aware of my surroundings with more streetlights or brighter bulbs in the ones that already exist.

The Dark Sky Community certification in Flagstaff certainly protects from light pollution getting out of hand compared to cities like Phoenix, but this comes at the cost of public safety in a busy college town.

Arguably, a college town should have more precautions in place to protect the abundance of young and vulnerable students from crime.

I’ve personally felt like it has been very difficult for me to see at night because of how dark it is with the limited illumination from the streetlights in town.

The website for the Dark Skies Coalition goes as far to claim that, “We have advanced technology to the point that we can now strike out the dark of night and replace it with a perpetual twilight. No longer do we have to fear the dark and the scary monsters that come out when the sun goes down.”

For me, as a young woman who often walks at night alone, clutching my pepper spray, I’m definitely still afraid of who could be lurking in the dark. Maybe I’m paranoid, or maybe I listen to too many true crime podcasts, but I don’t feel as safe being alone at night in Flagstaff than I do in a brightly lit city like Phoenix.

The compromise of having Flagstaff be a certified Dark Sky Community leaves room for perpetrators to stalk young people easier without anyone noticing because of how dark the streets get at nighttime.

I value that Flagstaff cares about being environmentally conscious and has actually adopted policies toward this end. Politicians these days will often say they care about the environment, but their legislation reflects the opposite once money is involved.

It’s true that I love looking at the starry night sky as much as the next person, but I wish I’d be able to enjoy it without also worrying that someone may jump from around a dark corner and take me.