Think Tank to London: Improve your lighting now

March 18, 2021
It will support economic recovery, not to mention social, individual, and environmental wellbeing.

A think tank that focuses on how to improve London is pushing for a city-wide lighting strategy, noting that a cohesive approach could support an economic recovery.

The London based Centre for London, a charity, points out in a new report that not only does the city lack a unified lighting plan, but that only two of its 33 localities have a strategy for their own areas.

If the 32 boroughs and the financial district — known as the City of London — were to coordinate modern LED lighting design, controls, and implementation, the city would benefit in many ways, not the least of which would be economic, states the report, Seeing Clearly: How lighting can make London a better city.

“Our capital has the potential to be one of the best-lit cities in the world, yet for a mix of reasons, it hasn’t treated lighting as a priority,” the report notes. “This is despite growing evidence of the benefits that good lighting can bring to cities — and the costs if it is ignored.”

The authors do not quantify the economic advantages, but they leave no doubt that in their view, a citywide game plan of lighting improvements would boost the economy.

Related article: Major study finds outdoor lighting cut crime by 39%

“Good lighting makes economic sense, since it enables us to spend more time enjoying the city’s culture, hospitality, retail, and nightlife,” they note. “Relatively modest changes in policy and practice would hugely improve the quality of London’s lighting, as well as supporting economic, civic, and cultural activity that will help London recover from the COVID-19 crisis.”

The report dives into many aspects of lighting in need of betterment. For instance, it faults current lighting for being too focused on roadways at the expense of pedestrian and cycle paths.

It says that lighting should aim to encourage outdoor social interaction of all sorts, from informal to sports, recreation, and cultural events. It should also foster mood and wellbeing. And it should encourage nightlife in a way that attracts people out to venues, and that improves safety and security — including not just reducing crime, but also minimizing the potential for accidents such as tripping and walking into things.

Modern lighting can accomplish all these things while also minimizing glare and light pollution, the report notes, adding, of course, that LEDs cut energy use, even more so when combined with controls.

“Good lighting reduces light pollution and energy use while encouraging walking and cycling, by making journeys easier and safer,” a Centre for London spokesperson said. “In the aftermath of the pandemic, better lighting will be crucial to support the recovery of London’s high streets, encouraging people to spend more time shopping and socializing. Lighting also plays a key role in broadening access to culture such as through public art projects and illuminating heritage buildings.”

Related article: Prioritize photometrics in outdoor lighting retrofits

The Centre singles out several recent projects in London that exemplify the possibilities across the city. These include the Illuminated River lighting of nine bridges over the River Thames by designer Leo Villareal; the lighting of historic buildings and of riverside trees in the Rotherhithe district along the Thames; the relighting of the financial district in a way that reduces light pollution, introduces warmer tones, and enhances the pedestrian experience; and softer and less invasive public lighting at a social housing complex in the Tower Hamlets section.

The report was endorsed by London’s “night czar” Amy Lamé, who works for Mayor Sadiq Khan promoting and buttressing London nightlife.

“London’s economy between 6 PM–6 AM will play a crucial role in our recovery from the pandemic, so it is more important than ever for our outside spaces to be lit effectively and sustainably,” she said.

In many ways the report states the obvious, but in a well thought-out and convincing manner. It is also a reminder that, despite the aforementioned “obvious,” and despite many exemplary lighting projects, there is still a lot of bad lighting out there. You can read the entire report at the Centre for London website.

Earlier this week LEDs Magazine reported that the UK government is increasing spending on public lighting following the high-profile murder of Sarah Everard. Work on the Centre for London report predates that incident.

MARK HALPER is a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).

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About the Author

Mark Halper | Contributing Editor, LEDs Magazine, and Business/Energy/Technology Journalist

Mark Halper is a freelance business, technology, and science journalist who covers everything from media moguls to subatomic particles. Halper has written from locations around the world for TIME Magazine, Fortune, Forbes, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, CBS, Wired, and many others. A US citizen living in Britain, he cut his journalism teeth cutting and pasting copy for an English-language daily newspaper in Mexico City. Halper has a BA in history from Cornell University.