Urban design magazine

Public spaces

Public lighting – cities shaped by light

Image of public lighting in Lyon

The SPIE group, European leader in energy and communication services, helps local authorities develop and manage public lighting. We talked to Daniel Boscari, Director of Development for Local Government, about the role of lighting in our cities.

Daniel Boscari, what makes lighting an important element in urban spaces?

Public lighting has been structuring urban landscapes since the 1900s. We aren’t always aware of its use, for example, in street furniture like bus stops, illuminated signs and for managing traffic. It shapes the face of the city.

You’ve just published the results of a survey carried out by Harris Interactive on the French and public lighting, which reveal that one in five French people think that their road is badly lit. Does this surprise you?

No, these results aren’t very surprising. In France, much of our lighting dates from the 1970s to 1990s when urbanisation was at its height. We have inherited this aging legacy and some users feel very frustrated.

Are some areas particularly favoured or disadvantaged in terms of public lighting?

In any city, there is a clear lighting “topography”. Each different zone (city centre, residential areas, industrial areas and arteries) requires a specific level of lighting based on how it is used. It involves combining utility with aesthetics. Lighting is part of a city’s identity. The most notable example is Paris whose lighting is inspired by its 19th century legacy. Lighting is also a key feature in the city of Lyon and helps create a unique atmosphere.

Image of public lighting at arcachon

Jetty – Arcachon, France

How can we develop public lighting?

Lighting is, of course, linked to a political project. It is an element of a city’s image and contributes to its aesthetic appeal. Initiating change is not (only) a question of money – sometimes the same budget we can achieve very different results. The key to success is bringing together creativity, technology and innovation.

French people want lighting that is more energy and cost-efficient. How can this be achieved?

It is not always necessary to start again from scratch. When renovating street furniture we are able to use more modern materials. This has many benefits for the city, for example, by using the latest technology we consume less (we can save up to 70% simply by changing the type of light bulb). Electric power transmission is also important and we need to find the right balance between different elements. The good news is that today we can predict potential savings, which helps boost investment. This fits in perfectly with the “consume less and spend better” mentality.

How is public lighting designed?

The light designer is the most important part of the process. With a simultaneously technical and artistic role, they work with electrical constraints to create harmonious blue, white and yellow lighting. Their role is to illuminate spaces strategically to make them safer and enhance the city’s cultural heritage. This sometimes involves creating tourist circuits, providing lighting for festivals or monuments and projecting moving images. Lighting adds value by revealing different layers.

Image of public lighting Ramonville

Public lighting – Ramonville, France

What makes for efficient public lighting today and how will this change in the future?

Tomorrow is already here. Efficient lighting illuminates effectively and is reliable, as well as creating a feeling of well-being and security. It also relies on good electric power transmission. Intelligent lighting takes this one step further. Today we can use electronic ballasts to better adapt lighting to our needs, for example, managing the level of lighting at different times of day or when people walk past. We also encourage local inhabitants to contribute to the design by sharing their ideas. In the future, we will be able to use geolocation to report faulty lights – the technology already exists, we simply need to apply it.

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