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 wan