Light in cities during COVID-19
How to keep society going during a lockdown?
As countries “shut down” one after the other and social distancing measures limited people’s movements and interactions, public spaces in cities took on multiple new roles.
Covid-19 has demonstrated the importance of urban parks and green spaces. During the lockdown period, parks were essential for recreation, social interaction and maintaining social relations.
In cities in northern Europe, outdoor spaces were important sources for people’s “dose” of natural light.
Moreover, the unusually good weather during lockdown meant that more people than usual were in urban green spaces, leading to a need for more urban furniture in these outdoor spaces.
In many cities of LUCI network, parks are not lit and therefore not accessible at night.
Many cities resembled «ghost towns», and that was particularly true during the nighttime. There has of course been a major economic impact: many small business, bars, restaurants and places linked to the nighttime economy had to shut down, either temporarily or in the long term. This will have an impact on city economies in the long term and many cities are planning to reduce their investments and downsize projects.
On the other hand, re-opening phases in many cities have seen a boom in outdoor seating for restaurants and bars. Cities now have to make the public space available for such initiatives and many municipalities have slackened rules linked to this. There is now also more space for entrepreneurs and experimentation in public space.
The economic impacts of the crisis will also have social effects: many cities have pointed out the need to build socially coherent policies that will enable activation and reactivation of public spaces.
In some cities, the lockdown also enabled citizens to rediscover their city and reappropriate public space. In Amsterdam, a city normally overcrowded with 17 million tourist each year, inhabitants could ‘rediscover’ their own city in a different way.
In other cities, less cars and more free time also meant that various social groups could use public spaces in a more “equal” manner. Children could go on the streets to play in cities where occasional outdoor movement was allowed.
There has been a major impact on how people move around in the city. There has been a surge in bicycle use. In Leipzig, people requested temporarily using part of the street as broadened bike lanes because there were so many cyclists. Many cities are creating more and more temporary and permanent bicycle lanes. A question to explore is whether public lighting, which is in some areas mainly thought for cars, is adaptable enough to respond to such a situation.
The Glasgow City Council used this period to test some future changes for the city. There will also be more funding from the government for “Spaces for people” to promote active mobility and social distancing as people get back to work and start taking public transport.
Similarly, Albertslund in Denmark, continued with a pilot project with Telia to gather (anonymous) data from cellphones on how people use the streets. The data from this tool will give them more information for better mobility planning, where people go, use of bikes, etc. which will contribute to an planned urban redevelopment project.
In most cities, permanent street lighting continued as usual, and lighting development projects moved forward. In Rabat, the public lighting strategy was adapted to the reduced use of streets and public spaces: lights were dimmed where possible. This successful implementation of dimming during the lockdown period led the city to integrate dimming in its lighting strategy for the future as well. In addition, some public works projects took the opportunity for otherwise complex road closures to carry on and even accelerate.
Creative lighting bringing joy to cities during Covid-19
As cities went into lockdown, many artists rose to the occasion to find innovative ways to bring light art to the people: digital content became a go-to entertainment source to showcase light art that usually needs to be viewed in the public space, while guerrilla-style light art projections were set up on building facades so that citizens could view some art from the safety of their windows and balconies.
While these smaller projects were able to move forward during this difficult period the Covid-19 pandemic has had a major negative impact on public cultural events around the world. Many cities in LUCI had light festivals that had to be cancelled, postponed, or modified due to the pandemic.
A major challenge has been for municipalities to decide how to adapt light festivals to the everchanging situation linked to the pandemic.