Street Lights & The City

"If you build buildings with lights outside, you can make them indefinite, and then when you’re through with using them you shut the lights off and they disappear".

—Andy Warhol (1975)


The mission of urban planning is to create places according to our senses and needs. This is a complex task of arranging elements to fulfill a large number of requirements such as function, climate, aesthetics, architecture, and light.

In urban surroundings, street lighting, along with traffic signals and signs that organize and define the visual environment at night. The night, usually a time of darkness and quiet is slowly occupied by humans. We were able to cross the border of darkness with artificial lighting, offering us a sense of illusion. We are so dependent on the sense of vision that only by extending it into the night do we feel confident in our ability to understand and control our environment.

As we progress into the 21st century, our visual environment at night is increasingly shaped by the dominance of information and communication technologies. Excessive and simultaneous stimulation, especially on the visual level, by street lighting, by images, advertising, and news information, is affecting our perception of urban space during night time. These dark times are increasingly determined by the flood of messages and statements, the denial of the ability to for independent view. Our urban experience, even our memories, is more deeply rooted in images. Today, the street lighting situation in our cities is far from optimal. Street lighting is designed primarily for roads, without respect for the urban environment. The light was adapted for safety and security needs regardless of the urban experience, architecture or pedestrian. There is a feeling of unnecessary and repetitive cop- paste at a fixed distance without any reference. The streetlight mode monotonously neutralizes the urban night experience that a city needs to produce. Without any hierarchical rating, the city looks boring. The way we think about urban planning, architecture, and daytime street user experience is completely gone at night and becomes the needs of drivers. Does the way we illuminate the streets with equal uniformity make us lose the diversity of the city? Instead of using light to emphasize places we choose to illuminate the streets uniformly. Even in terms of energy consumption, do we not put too much effort into lighting the entire street evenly throughout the dark hours with no special purpose or real meaning? Since its invention, electric lighting has had a decisive influence on the psychogeography of urban space. From the first moment of his recognition as an independent phenomenon, electricity was a source of deep wonder. The Romantics quickly identified him with a universal life force, panned in the Frankenstein Mary Shelley's archetypal modern creation scene of 1818, and fueled by no less authority than Goethe's "Soul of the World." A century later, the prospect of electricity literally blinded the industrialized world and inspired both entrepreneurs, artists and revolutionaries with irresistible visions of a dynamic and electric future. The electrification of industry and transport, coupled with the expansion of power grids to public streets and private homes, was one of the key vectors of technological change that betrays industrial modernity from earlier social forms.




"Electricity is the pervading element that accompanies all material existence, even the atmospheric. It is to be thought of unabashedly as the soul of the world". -Goethe (1825)


There is a relative lack of social history that examines the effect of electricity on everyday life. Even rarer are the theories of how electric lighting has contributed to the formation of a modern and distinct sense of space, a dramatic way of illuminating the modern city landscape, changing the appearance of the city, the rhythms and modes of social settlement. However, in the absence of systematic reports, what can be found are snippets scattered in the writings of artists, architects, journalists, filmmakers and other viewers of the modern city. One thing that most texts make clear is that even from the first, electric lighting has a greater potential than a purely functional role.

In this context, electricity has spread in the modern city landscape by several waves. First, confined to secluded sites, such as capital estates and some department stores looking for innovative means to attract buyers, it gradually expanded into public street lighting programs along major transportation routes, eventually expanding to a large number of private homes. Although public lighting has been recognized as an important technique in policing public space since it was invented in the 16st century, the spread of electric light has surpassed any rational desire to maintain public order. As mentioned above, the first demonstrations of electric light proved to be capable of attracting crowds of viewers and making them captivated. This recognition has inspired advanced entrepreneurs to install electric lighting as an innovative form of advertising, especially around downtown businesses such as theaters and department stores.

This article comes from a different approach to customized street lighting for the main street user -pedestrian, by creating an appropriate environment that contributes to the urban experience at night. How to incorporate street lighting as a key component of our urban environment to lead and enrich the street experience at night rather than as a by-product of planned vehicle traffic? Why when we design interior spaces do we make sure to be enlightened, what is dark, what is lit? What's dazzling? Color of light and quality of color rendering, and when we reach the outdoor space our solution is generic, boring without any attribution to the environment that flattens all the pre-existing urban thinking adapted to the sunlight? It is important to understand that our entire visual system is based on light, and what is illuminated at night is what we see. Currently, our street lighting design is mainly due to the regulations and parameters that result from vehicle speed, lane amount, number of intersections, etc. The regulations create a situation that the road is the main thing that is lit even though the vehicle has its own lighting and drivers can get along fine without street lighting. The driver's experience at the urban space in seconds and minutes while the real consumers who experience the urban space are pedestrians do not constitute leading parameters in street lighting design. Another aspect to ask in the digital and dynamic age we live in, why is street lighting operating continuously and uniformly during all hours of darkness? This is in addition to the lack of use, regardless of the context in which it is located, the urban space. Also in the era that sustainability is highly rated there are two important aspects that need our attention are energy consumption and light pollution that we experience in the darkness of excess lighting in the urban space. The excess light and its type affect other animals and us. Light has a huge impact on our biological clock. As a result of the great influence of LEDs especially with the blue light, we are all in the disruption of the biological clock (the blue light simulates the morning light and gives the body the instruction to think that we are in the daytime) that produces and encourages illness.


In this article I want to discuss, how can street lighting help to enhance the experience of our city streets after dark, especially for pedestrians? To find a different approach to street lighting in the city during the night, out of dissatisfaction with what is happening today. The main point I was interested in is it possible to enrich the street experience with street lighting? What do I mean by "enriching the street experience"? What are the experiences we are looking for? What does “enrich them” mean?

To answer these questions, I came across the words of John Uri - a sociologist of tourism and mobility:

“Space has become a consumer item, which is consumed by the tourist's gaze: a point of view whose main purpose is to see experiences. Thus, space is defined in a way that suits its visual consumption. Space appears less like something he has experienced; instead, it is something that people visit while consuming regardless of their environment in the daily lives of their users. Our modern "life in motion" produces the spaces of the contemporary city that Mark Auge calls "no places." What characterizes these spaces is that passersby pass through them, so participation in space becomes a simple sight.

“The attempt to understand the meaning of “experience” can be found in the words of Palasma C. From "The Body in the Center" (1996):

“I confront the city with my body; My feet measure the length of the arcade and the width of the square; My gaze unconsciously projects my body to the front of the cathedral, where it wanders over the developments and outlines, and feels the size of the niches and casts; the weight of my body meets the mass of the cathedral door, and my hand holds the door to pull as I enter the dark space behind. I experience myself in the city, and the city exists through my embodied experience. The city and bodies complement and define each other. I live in the city and the city is in me. ”

From this we can conclude that the street experience is related to what we receive, perceive, donate and transmit to the street with our presence and the various activities we carry on in all our senses - hearing, seeing, touch, smell and taste.

When we talk about enriching the street experience we mean activities that enrich, enhance and diversify the perception of space by using our full senses.

The same physical space of the city is the backdrop to two similar, but different, urban realities: the daytime city and the nighttime city. The city we are exposed to at night is a more abstract place where streets, parks, buildings or unexpected details pop up, while suddenly the recognized disappear.

When we discuss street lighting and enrich the street experience in the city, we talk about the urban experience in the dark; howthe main basis for planning and street lighting todayis according to municipal regulations is more about vehicles and roads without much consideration for people and the built environment. To better clarify the idea I would like to give an example of Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, the main avenue in downtown Tel Aviv, named for Baron Edmund James de Rothschild. It is one of the most important streets in the city and the most well-known and most important avenue in Tel Aviv; it plays a major role in the urban development of Tel Aviv, and along many important sites and buildings that are defined for conservation. The boulevard was and still is a cultural center of Tel Aviv, and is part of Israel's economic heart, being one of the main streets in the country's largest and most important business center. As such, and as the neighborhood center where many of the city's leaders and nationals used to live, many historical events took place, including the state's declaration. From the 90's, the avenue undergoes a process where low-rise buildings are replaced by residential and office towers, while preserving some of the old buildings, including Tel Aviv's first kiosk and especially the eclectic and international style known as "Bauhaus".

As we walk around the avenue in the dark hours of the street lighting the emphasis is on the roads and all the buildings almost disappear from the space. And if they have already decided to illuminate a number of buildings then in lighting which is not sufficiently suitable to the architecture and the style it should emphasize. For example, conserved buildings gets bats preventive lighting, color illumination unrelated to space and the color of the building.

In order to tell the story of the city and the street ahead of the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel, the Tel Aviv Municipality has established the Independence Trail, which, at light points, marks a route to historic "content points" in the boulevard and nearby streets. When the path reaches a content point, the point becomes a circle and turns the pedestrian into a structure of historical significance. Only the same structure is in darkness and cannot really be seen in its glory at the dark. Also, the floor dot lighting is a blinding factor in space, our vision works in such a way that our heads are inclined downwards and small bright spots that light up in a dark environment creates high contrast that produce glare. Blinding is a phenomenon that disrupts vision and urban experience and should be avoided with all validity.



Hence, I would like to propose a new approach whereby street light in the dark hours should not be derived from one factor but a combination of three factors: humans, space and light: Space – the public urban environment. Humans – those who use space. Light – responsible for the way humans perceive space and experience it at night. This approach contains all these aspects together and considers them as a whole. The idea is to change the habit of a generic solution back to a more contextual solution. A project based on the three elements I propose, explores the site in depth and creates a proposal that is compatible with the site. The project will create a wider impact. Light has a huge impact on our behavior and behavior in space, and among the three main elements (according to street lighting) light is the easiest to change and control. Therefore, lighting designers should be careful in their power. Our impact is greater than we are aware of, so it is important to be aware of the role of the snowball in a positive and negative way.

The idea is that access captures the entire urban system on the street, the light and the users as a whole. It basically contains elements that are not usually taken into account. The approach presents and raises issues we would not necessarily think of and now we can consider in depth and understand their context in relation to street lighting. For example, buildings on Rothschild Street can be illuminated according to their level of importance and style. Can UNESCO-declared buildings of the International style (the white city), be illuminated by white light and the eclectic-style buildings (most of which are coloured) will be lit by yellow-warm light? Buildings of historical significance will be able to present themselves in full broadcast and be able to express themselves evenly in the dark hours. The light should be paid attention to the trees that define the spinal space wonderfully and strengthen them during the dark. Public lighting systems can help define the character and urban image. These lighting systems may illuminate streets, roads, sidewalks, paths, bicycle paths, parks, monuments, buildings, sculptures, fountains and landscapes. A good public lighting hierarchy increases the relative importance and character of cityscapes and enhances the value of providing information about them. When street lighting is based on its basic components; the understanding and consideration of people, the understanding of urban space and control technology, techniques and qualities of light. And when an in-depth analysis of the site is built on basic components with the right connections, street lighting certainly enriches the street experience. Street lighting can help make public spaces more intimate, accessible and essential at local and regional levels. This will change the situation today, which is essentially duplicated and made for vehicles, to a state that is designed for people, considers and knows its visual aspects, appreciates and knows the urban space and knows how to adapt to the right light and see it. Street lighting becomes a link that combines space and humans at night. Contrary to current processes where the starting point for street lighting design is based on regulations, the starting point needs to change in the directions of urbanity, user experience and people, and regulations should be changed based on people and less on vehicles. The best way is to produce a regulated urban lighting plan that defines how urban space and its surroundings should be illuminated. Each city produces its own lighting master plan. The basic parameters that need to be entered are the 8 parameters of light: 1. Power – using space illumination - how dark and bright? 2. Distribution/distribution of light – Where is it lit and where is it dark? • Focused light. • Scattered light. • Light cut by angle or shape. • Light is processed through filtration (different color filters, and variable texture). 3. Shadow – Where do they fall and what is their type? The direction of light and shading, natural angles, and angle characterization. Each illuminated object has a shadow. The size of the shadow and the direction of its fall is the result of a light source object context. As the light source moves away from the object, the shade is small. 4. Reflections – Where are they created and what is their nature? 5. Black – where does it appear, and powerfully held? 6. Color – light color, filters 7. Dynamic – Temporary, light variability according to varying parameters. 8. Type of light source – Incandescent / Fluorine / Discharge / Solar. Spectral structure of the different light sources. Their features, lifespan, dimming, size, accessories, etc.


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