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Sunday, May 9, 2021

Bellingham plans new festive lights

The streets of Downtown Bellingham might look a little different this holiday season. The Downtown Bellingham Partnership has teamed up with a Bellingham company called Sensebellum to install interactive LED lighting fixtures in large trees on West Holly Street.

The project is called “SynchroTreeCity”, and will roll out after Thanksgiving, said Casey Scalf, founder of Sensebellum and creator of the project. Tall trees along Holly Street will have six to eight LED fixtures hung within the branches.

A mock-up of the new LED lights activated by motion. // Photo courtesy of Casey Scalf
A mock-up of the new LED lights activated by motion. // Photo courtesy of Casey Scalf

The lights will interact with pedestrians through small motion sensors, said Nick Hartrich, the Executive Director of the Downtown Bellingham Partnership, and will display a variety of effects based on the number of people walking by. The current number of trees included is still up for debate, but there could be as many as 30.

Freshman Olivia Raster thought that the project is an example of the transformative side of Bellingham.

“I’ve only been in Bellingham for two years, but it’s constantly changing and evolving. I feel like it’s a fun community because of that,” Raster said.

Hartrich said the idea is the first of its kind.

“There’s no city that we know of that’s done anything like this,” Hartrich said.

The LEDs will be replacing incandescent snowflake lights that have hung on street posts downtown for the last 25 years. The old lights were expensive because they required new bulbs every year, and were costly to run on a nightly basis, Hartrich said. Because LEDs do not use bulbs, they will not require much maintenance. LEDs also use much less energy than traditional bulbs.

“We believe we can host all of these fixtures for a fraction of the cost, and get so much more bang for the buck,” Hartrich said.

Freshman Sloane Roach recently moved to Bellingham from Seattle and thought the idea was unique. While Seattle does have lights up during the holidays, they aren’t interactive in any way.

“It’s welcoming and nice that they choose to decorate,” Roach said. “I think that it shows we have a very

festive community.”

The idea was proposed at Kapow, a competition held in March 2015 at the Mount Baker Theater. Designers and artists submitted a total of 50 ideas for new installments that would liven up the downtown scene. The submissions were judged by a panel of architects, designers and urban planners and were narrowed down to ten.

Scalf, a Bellingham native, originally presented the project with the intentions of adorning one tree with LEDs. After the competition he was approached by Hartrich with the intention of extending SynchroTreeCity to a much larger scale.

The idea for the project stemmed from a trip to downtown Boulder, Colorado during the holiday season, Scalf said.

“I just thought, wow, if you’re going to put a lot of energy into putting some lights out, what if you added just a little interactivity,” Scalf said. “That way you can appreciate them, but also influence them”.

The Downtown Bellingham Partnership, applied for a grant to fund SynchroTreeCity through the Puget Sound Energy Foundation and are awaiting a response. The project will proceed regardless, Hartrich said.

The Downtown Bellingham Partnership hopes that the trees will help bring visitors from all around the county to Bellingham. After 25 years of the snowflake lights, it was an opportunity to move on to something else, Hartrich said.

“This is pretty ahead of its time”, Hartrich said.

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