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Lighting the urban night-time

How light shapes 24-hour cities


Lighting designers have joined fellow urbanists to rewrite the night. It is time to consider life after dark.  Today's cities are alive 24 hours. Yet all too often town planners apply their work to the daylight hours. They neglect the potential of night-time lighting to shape urban life after dark and support 24/7 economies.

With darkness accounting for 50% of the world’s time, that potential is huge. Well-designed night-time lighting can influence the way you use and enjoy a city, the way you move around its streets and even the way you feel.

The power of night-time lighting

Have you ever stopped, for instance, to wonder why you take a certain route home at night or feel safe here but not there? Chances are it has to do with how public spaces are lit.

The right night-time lighting can make shift workers feel safe on after-dark commutes. It can make you more likely to walk or take public transport. And it can encourage you to socialise outdoors at night, contributing to its night-time economy.

“Night-time is fundamentally different from daytime. In many hotter climates, it provides the best conditions for people to use outdoor urban spaces. So it deserves its own design approach, and thinking harder and smarter about street lighting is a vital part of this.”

Leni Schwendinger, Lighting Designer and Urbanist at Arup


We were commissioned to improve the lighting of the garden in London’s famous Leicester Square. We noticed that it wasn’t being used to its full potential at night and set about analysing people’s movements within the space, then transforming it with light. We revealed how lighting can affect where we go, when we go and which route we take.


Watch the film below to find out more about how the use of light can transform urban spaces at night.

How can night-time lighting contribute to how a city feels and functions? Read our interview with Arup's Leni Schwendinger.

Community involvement helped develop a night-time lighting strategy that enabled people to enjoy the streets at night.

Read our interview with Leni Schwendinger.

Industry collaboration

So what makes effective night-time lighting? Answering this question involves understanding things like how people want to use city spaces, how light affects our bodies and our behaviours, and why we need darkness too.

“Urban lighting isn’t just about meeting safety needs through code compliance, or achieving an aesthetic effect. It presents a significant opportunity to fundamentally improve the quality of life of urban citizens. Properly considered, lighting can positively impact the ‘total architecture’ of our cities; reinforcing urban design principles, enhancing cultural experiences and encouraging social interaction.”

Florence Lam, Global Lighting Design Leader at Arup


So creating effective night-time lighting requires expertise in lighting design, urban planning and sociology. In researching our report, we  brought together experts from different disciplines to discuss the importance of lighting, and what needs to be considered when planning our cities.


By combining expertise in all areas of urban design, cities can use night-time lighting to become more enjoyable, more sociable, safer, healthier and easier to get around.

This video shows how working with local stakeholders in Double Bay (Sydney, Australia) to define nighttime objectives is a crucial stage in the lighting master plan development. 

This report is a product of collaboration between the Foresight + Research + Innovation and Lighting teams at Arup. It involved a wide range of internal external experts.