By J. Taylor Basker
In 2005 the Applied Development Company and Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide began construction on a new W Hotel in Hoboken, along the city’s southern waterfront on the Hudson River facing Manhattan. Designed by the architectural firm Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects, it was only the fourth hotel in the country to carry the W sign, the others being in Arizona, Florida, and Texas. Conveniently located near the PATH train and Hudson River Ferries, near Newark Airport and the Meadowlands, it would provide an opportunity for visitors to avoid crowded Manhattan hotels and to enjoy the magnificent skyline of Manhattan. The hotel was opened in the fall of 2007—good for the Hoboken economy and visitors, but bad for humans in Manhattan and the fish in the Hudson River.
Actually, I left NYC in August, 2007, just before the W Hotel opened, for several years for a job in the Middle East. When I returned, on vacations, to my apartment in Westbeth on the Hudson River, I was horrified to see a hideous large “W” sign fouling my view of the park, river, and NJ skyline. I started complaining on social media about it, advocating a boycott of the W Hotel. But I was not here long enough to pursue my protest and research the additional negative effects of this invasive ugly sign. Now, having returned again, I see that an even larger W sign has been erected. It destroys New Yorkers’ views of the sunset every day, and is a permanent bleeding scar on the surface of the river as it imperializes the NJ skyline. It is a permitted terrorist weapon of mass obstruction—obfuscating the view of the river, the sky and clouds, the sun, and the NJ shoreline.
For a wonderful week in January, the sign was dark. There again was the view of the river at night flowing silently like black satin. The NJ skyline was restored to balance and harmony. Sunsets were pure and sacred again. Then the sign returned, a large red vampire sucking the soul of viewers trapped into looking at it, turning us into zombies marching to the beat of the drum of unrelenting advertising.
Hoboken City Hall says the W sign does not violate any Hoboken building codes. I am still waiting for a call back from their legal office. I called Hudson River Park administrators inquiring about the annoyance to people using the park and the negative effects of the continual red light on the environment. They never returned my call.
Light pollution research is quite extensive. Light pollution is defined as “excessive, misdirected or obtrusive artificial (usually outdoor) light. Too much light pollution has consequences: it washes out starlight in the night sky, interferes with astronomical research, disrupts ecosystems, has adverse health effects, and wastes energy.”
Disrupting ecosystems has serious consequences for the Hudson River, which requires a delicate balance that many people in NYC have fought to preserve. The light from the W sign has negative impacts on plant and animal physiology. The natural diurnal patterns of light and dark direct the rhythm of life. Continual red light interferes with these patterns and is dangerous for ecological dynamics. Animals can become confused regarding their migratory patterns, and the competitive interactions between animals is affected, altering predator-prey relations and causing resultant physiological harm.
There are adverse health effects on many species, especially humans, that follow circadian rhythms. The production of melatonin can be affected by light pollution as it is regulated by light and dark (i.e. day and night). Humans can experience sleep disorders and other health problems such as headaches, fatigue, stress and obesity due to lack of sleep, and increased anxiety. The damage of the glare of this light on eyes, especially aging eyes, is significant. Even ties to cancer are being discovered. These effects are increased by exposure to just one form of light, i.e. red, rather than the entire spectral composition.
The color red has an ancient history of association with healing, and there is a health treatment known as Red Light Therapy (RLT), first developed by NASA, that claims to help joint pain, weight loss, skin inflammation, symptoms of aging, psoriasis, depression, and other conditions, through stimulating the mitochondria of the fat cells using infrared light therapy. The FDA has regulations about the length and frequency of sessions that can last for only 15-20 minutes; any greater exposure is dangerous. And only a few weeks of sessions are permitted.
Continual red light is known to increase one’s metabolism, heart rate, and blood pressure. It produces anger, stress, sleeplessness, and anxiety. So those of us in lower Manhattan who have to look at the “W” sign daily—beware! If your bedroom window presents a view of the “W,” draw thick black curtains over your window before you try to sleep. If you bike, jog, or walk in the Hudson River Park, buy blinders to block out the sign. We can share creative strategies we use to obstruct the sign. I put a small artificial Christmas tree in my window to block it.
I have nothing personal against the W Hotel. I would love to live in it for life! Yet its sign presents a hazard to the health of all species of life forms that have to look at the invasive, powerful red neon W on its roof. Maybe Westbeth could erect a giant W on its roof looking towards NJ as a form of revenge. But let us be hopeful! Remember the large but legal four-story Traveler’s Insurance red neon umbrella sign mounted on 388 Greenwich Street that we banished from Lower Manhattan in 1998, that drove us crazy and could be seen for miles? It is time for us to take action again to abolish another visual blight for the sake of the health and sanity of our citizens and our fish!