Light is a powerful material. It is fundamental to our lives and it can help create new and interesting spaces in many different ways. Even though this tends to be unrecognised in most discussions, lighting is currently gaining a new momentum. Fuelled by continuous innovation and the development of new technologies, it has now taken centre stage in different discussions around economic and environmental costs in the context of climate change and sustainable urban development, as well as new questions on aesthetics and city branding and the quality of life in cities. But not all of us benefit equally from this new status of light and lighting. Looking at the lighting in different kinds of urban spaces can actually tell us quite a bit about social inequalities. For example, in London social housing estates tend to be brightly and harshly illuminated to allow for better CCTV surveillance, which is assumed to prevent anti-social behaviour. This kind of lighting prompts a range of issues, but also ‘marks’ these space as ‘dangerous’ or ‘problematic’, regardless of whether this is actually the case or not. In fact, darkness has become some sort of luxurious good in London: neighbourhoods that are well-off are usually not only darker and free from these crude lighting interventions, but also have much softer nightscapes which feel calm and safe and are aesthetically pleasing.
To address this, Configuring Light/Staging the Social has establishing an expert working group to tackle social inequalities in public lighting. Consisting of high-profile experts and stakeholders in the fields of design, planning and policy making, this working group has met on three occasions in order to develop a cross-disciplinary and actionable agenda to facilitate a more careful consideration of lighting in social housing planning and development. Each meeting saw some of the working group members as speakers and focus on a London-based case study – the Whitecross Estate, the Thamesmead Estate, the St John’s Way development – to evaluate how social inequalities are mirrored in different types of social housing lighting. Read Mark Major’s (Principal at Speirs + Major) reflections on the project on our blog.
The report summarising the discussions and key take-aways for tackling social inequalities in public lighting, particularly for social housing can be downloaded below.
LSE has also produced a film on the project which looks at light inequalities on the Thamesmead Estate, see below.