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Brighter city - safer city

Green advisor

A brighter city is a safer city

Many people feel uneasy in inadequately lit outdoor urban environments. Poor lighting can often lead to increased criminality. Can surveillance cameras, security guards and other traditional safety measures be replaced by better lighting? ÅF has put that theory to the test in a pilot study in the Copenhagen suburb of Gadehavegård, with positive results.

A follow-up survey conducted by the local authority also shows a significant improvement in local residents’ perceptions of security.

Lighting gives a sense of security

A socially sustainable urban environment is one in which people are willing and able to move freely day and night, without feeling insecure. One relatively new approach to improving safety and security in cities is to install better street lighting. Streets, squares and footpaths that appear dark are often perceived as unsafe, and there is a clear correlation between dimly lit areas and criminality.

Improving outdoor lighting can encourage more people to move freely and feel safer during the hours of darkness. A visually attractive environment also sends signals that an area is well looked after, giving residents a greater sense of pride in their neighbourhood. “Measures to improve security usually focus on crime-ridden areas. That means things like surveillance cameras, wire fences and security guards. Working with outdoor lighting is a novel approach. Better lighting means better security, but it also adds value in other ways by improving local residents’ perception of an area’s visual appeal,” says Christian Klinge, Head of Innovation at ÅF's lighting team.

If people are to feel safe, the important thing is not the amount of light, but how and where this lighting is located. Poorly directed lighting can have an adverse effect and create a sense of disharmony and insecurity. The key is to know how light affects people and how people move around in urban environments.

Pilot study in Copenhagen

Gadehavegård is home to just over 2,000 people. With its supermarkets, schools, playgrounds, football pitches and cross-section of residents young and old, this Copenhagen suburb is, in many ways, typical of numerous other residential areas. In recent years, however, crime has been rife in the area.

As part of an initiative to address this problem the local council sought ÅFs help in the pilot project “Light up your Life” to determine whether better outdoor lighting might be one way to improve local security. The project took place over a 12-month period to make it possible to identify how lighting could be improved during the various seasons of the year.

Casting light on the problems

To make sure the project provided a truly all-round picture the ÅF team worked closely with an anthropologist, who helped identify local residents’ own needs and the potential for improvement in the area.

The project commenced with a so called “darkness analysis”; after studying the area, ÅF consultants could confirm that there were certain inadequacies in the existing lighting. Back streets and tunnels were not illuminated, street lamps were insufficient to provide good lighting for people to find their way around in the evenings, and residents felt insecure.

At one stage the anthropologist invited residents to accompany him on a walk through the area to identify specific locations that felt unsafe or where people felt vulnerable. Working with residents in this way tapped into a rich vein of ideas on how to improve the visual appearance of the area.

A lighting concept takes form 

The darkness analysis and the residents’ tour of the area enabled ÅF to set about formulating a detailed concept, where the criteria for the choice and location of the lighting were “the quiet life” and “the wild life” respectively.

The quiet life was a metaphor for relatively small areas and meeting places: park benches, footpaths, playgrounds, etc. Here the focus was on white light, although some coloured lamps were used to create a multi-dimensional effect when illuminating green areas and public benches. Various technologies were tested, including LEDs.

The wild life described the more intense levels of activity that take place in larger, open areas. To create the kind of inviting atmosphere that encourages meetings and activities, ÅF sought a more animated effect in these locations, with lamps in different colours bringing façades and other surfaces to life with visually appealing patterns. Lighting was also installed in stairwells and tunnels to give pedestrians a greater sense of security by making it easier for them to see clearly who they are meeting. 

Greater sense of security 

When the pilot project was evaluated with the help of interviews with some 20 or so residents, it became clear that people’s perceptions of personal security in the area had increased significantly and the neighbourhood was perceived as visually more appealing. One Gadehavegård resident of 20 years’ standing was particularly appreciative of the better street lighting: “There used to be dark patches between street lamps. Many lamps were being vandalised. At night you’d choose another route. But now it’s a pleasure to walk around here in the evenings.”

Christian Klinge believes that closer collaboration around lighting issues – giving equal weight to technical, social and environmental concerns – will become increasingly important for local authorities in the future. “We see great potential in this work. At ÅF we are working continuously to broaden our offer. Multi-disciplinary collaborations with other professions, such as anthropologists and architects, have become part and parcel of our holistic approach,” he says. 

Services involved