I won’t save the world


Because of a student job, I recently paid a visit to a unique place: the Dutch expo for streetlights. I was there to present something. The reason is because I spent the last couple of years working on lighting projects, and I still am today, now as a student assistant. I’m thinking about pursuing a career in this sector. That’s why I got on the train to Houten.

Every year, the Dutch public lighting community meets in Houten, the apparent beating heart of the streetlights industry. This is where companies, including that one from Eindhoven, present their newest and best streetlights. By the way, everyone there uses the word lamppost.

The design that comes to mind when people hear the word streetlight dates from the 1960s. The vast majority of those present at the expo are about the same age. The rest of the crowd mostly consisted of what I believe were sales people. The consequences of aging within this specific branch are gradually becoming apparent in our street scene. Only one major innovative lighting design has been implemented over the past years: LED, because that saved money. Other glowing innovations however, including so-called ‘smart’ streetlights, have hardly been implemented so far.

The thing I realized above all else during the expo, is that there are certain things I don’t want to do after I graduate. Project manager? No one really knows what they actually do. Installation companies were invented to take work off the municipalities’ plates, since these no longer wish to have any kind of responsibility, let alone knowledge. Life as a civil servant seems like torture to me. As far as I’m concerned, engineering firms don’t differ that much from consultancy, which is the biggest bullshit job in the entire chain. In fact, there wasn’t a single job at the expo that gave me the impression that it had something valuable to add.

To a naïve, young and ambitious student, this feels like a stab in the heart. At TU/e, we’re told that we can save the world. Surely, I can’t be the only student who hopes to do so, but who still hasn’t quite figured out his or her role yet. Obviously, public lighting is meant satirically, but what about other industries? Finding a position from where you can truly make a positive difference is difficult in every business sector. Perhaps even more so in those industries where change is needed more than ever now, such as the housing sector, agriculture and fossil industry.

In the end I did however quite enjoy the expo, since I got to take part in a workshop. It felt a bit like Småland. Because this is where the younger target group came together to play. Lighting designers, architects and project managers were divided into groups and worked on the first steps towards a lighting design for a new urban construction project. This led to discussions during which some interesting terms were used, including ‘safety perception,’ ‘social cohesion,’ and – my personal favorite – ‘light quality.’ Remember, we’re talking about streetlights.

Still, this seems like nice work. I just want to make pretty lights, even though I know won’t save the world that way. So, that’s not good enough. I still have two years to go before I graduate. That means I still have two years to figure out whether there is a position for me out there from where I can truly make a difference.

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