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 Light and Crime

Olaf Kuhlke, Associate Professor and Chair of the Geography Dept.

Marc Malinoski

Mapping Light:

A UMD Project Catches the Attention of the City of Duluth

Olaf Kuhlke, associate professor and chair of the Geography Department, is interested in the design of sustainable cities and in sustainable transportation. In his Urban Ecology class, students have worked on projects that included mapping bike routes and overlapping bike routes with bus routes. Originally from Germany, Kuhlke admits he likes to walk. After attending a conference where he heard a lecture about what makes cities walkable, he got the idea to explore the “walkability” of Duluth.

Kuhlke talked with Marc Malinoski, a senior majoring in Geography, about the elements of walkability. Since Malinoski walked to school each day, he was drawn to the subject and decided to make it his senior project last semester. “It was nice to pick a topic that I liked and that I was interested in,” Malinoski noted. He chose the Endion neighborhood of Duluth, an L-shaped section of town bordered by East Eighth Street to the north, South 26th Avenue to the East, South 11th Avenue to the west and Lake Superior to the south. Malinoski began working on the project as soon as school started in September 2008.

Where the Sidewalk Starts

Malinoski chose to analyze the neighborhood’s walkability using five criteria. They were: condition of surface, slope, lighting, vegetation and handicapped accessibility. He took pictures and slope measurements. He rated sidewalk condition and lighting as good, fair or poor. Malinoski then plotted the findings from each of the five criteria onto city planning maps. The lighting map (A) shows poor light in black, fair light light in red and good light in yellow. Lastly, Malinski charted the most walker friendly routes onto a sixth map ranging from easy routes in green to difficult routes in red (B).Based on his findings, Malinoski concluded that, at least in the Endion neighborhood, "Duluth isn't that walker friendly.” He was most surprised by the number of vegetation obstructions; “"hedges that block the sidewalk, branches that make you duck." He also found sidewalks “"in dire need of work which had four or five inch drops to the road. He pointed out that some areas had multiple condition problems and would not be user-friendly to a person in a wheelchair or scooter. Malinoski presented his findings and graduated in December but the project isn't finished.

A - Marc Malinoski's map of lighing in the Endion neighborhood.

B - Marc Malinoski's map rating walkability in the Endion neighborhood.

Light and Shadow

Kuhlke became very interested in the light measuring component of Malinoski’s study and decided to explore that further. This semester, his Urban Ecology class will be measuring light throughout Duluth. He will divide the class into ten groups, one for each of the ten planning districts in the city. The students will go out at night and use Lux meters to measure light. “I want them to take measurements first when there is snow cover and then later in the spring after the snow has melted to see how much the reflectivity of the snow affects the measurements,” Kuhlke said. When students take measurements, a GPS reading will record exactly where that reading was taken. Ultimately this information will be plotted onto city maps.

College of Liberal Arts Development Director Adam Meyer contacted Duluth Mayor Don Ness about this project, and Ness has expressed interest in the results. “The city is interested in efficient street lighting and wants to know where street lighting could be improved.” Kuhlke has also become intrigued by whether there is a correlation between crime and less well-lit areas, something that Malinoski is also very interested it. “It raises the question of whether we should be concerned with dark spots,” Kuhlke said. Crime statistics could be overlaid onto the light mapping study to see whether crime is higher in low-light areas. Kuhlke has asked Malinoski to work on this project with him and the class.

In his Urban Ecology class, Kuhlke asks his students to pay particular attention to the everyday struggles that occur in the households and neighborhoods of cities as people attempt to care for themselves and their families in our rapidly changing world. Malinoski applied that thinking to one Duluth neighborhood, seeing its sidewalks with fresh eyes, noting the challenges that neglect and disrepair can present to people who cannot navigate the sidewalks as easily as he can. It will be interesting to see what new observations and insights students bring to the mapping light study.

Visit the Department of Geography's website

Written by Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann,

UMD home page editor, Cheryl Reitan,
NEW RELEASES, UMD media contact, Susan Latto,, 218-726-8830

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