The role of lighting in supporting town centre regeneration and economic recovery

Author ARUP

This 2020 report from ARUP centres on the role of lighting in the recovery and transformation of town centres. Arguing lighting can sometimes be overlooked in town centre strategies, the report explains how it can play a more central role in improving town centre economies and quality of life. At the heart of the report, lies a series of urban lighting case studies from around the world, which cover the key challenges, outcomes, and impacts on town centre transformation, as well as potentially wider sustainable development goals.

Date added 19 October 2021
Last updated 19 October 2021

This ARUP report focuses on the role of lighting in the recovery and transformation of town centres. The authors argue that lighting can sometimes be overlooked in town centre strategies, seen primarily as a functional way of improving safety after dark, or in making a place look more attractive. However, as the report explains (p.7):

Light has the power to change the way we perceive a place; to make it safer, more attractive, and more inviting. However, our urban areas are not always optimised for human activity after dark... Lighting imagines, creates, integrates and infuses areas to serve and advance human action. It enhances both the everyday, and the exceptional.

The report begins by briefly outlining the potential economic benefits of improved lighting in our town centres and how these might be measured. It next presents nine key challenges lying at the centre of town centre recovery and transformation, as follows:

  1. Attracting people sustainably and safely
  2. Providing spaces for people to dwell
  3. Bringing people closer to nature
  4. Removing barriers to access
  5. Offering a range of uses and activities
  6. Enhancing heritage
  7. Re-purposing underused assets
  8. Encouraging a sense of community; and
  9. Adapting to the changing nature of retail.

The report moves onto explaining how people’s night-time uses and activities are changing, in part due to the Covid-19 pandemic and associated changes in working and mobility patterns. It suggests, therefore, that it is increasingly important to recognise the idea of the '24-hour’ town or city, and in designing places (through lighting) with diverse community needs at the forefront. Four different 'personas’ of town centre users are outlined to demonstrate how lighting in centres should be flexible and adapt to these differing uses.

The resource concludes by presenting a series of urban lighting case studies from around the world, covering what the lighting intervention comprised, challenges being tackled, key outcomes and metrics, and illustrative photographs, including:

  • B-Lit, New York City
  • University of Sheffield Concourse
  • Croydon and Lewisham Street, Lighting PFI
  • Light Neville Street, Leeds
  • Woking Market Walk
  • The Park, Las Vegas
  • Dilworth Plaza, Philadelphia
  • Leicester Square, London
  • Royal Liver Building, Liverpool
  • HK Metroplaza, Hong Kong
  • Bradford City Park
  • Hull City
  • River of Light Festival, Liverpool
  • Illuminating York festival
  • Vivid Sydney Festival; and
  • Lumiere Festival, Durham.

Finally, these case studies are, in turn, linked to their capacity to overcome the nine town centre transformation challenges noted above, as well as their potential to help meet wider sustainable development goals. The report therefore demonstrates the potential of enhanced lighting in town centres, not only to benefit local night-time economies, but also society and the environment more widely.