Lighting design can bring many advantages to urban areas. Sustainability and a thriving night-time economy, of course. But also social cohesion accessibility and equality. And, if you ask me, participatory planning is the way forward. I’d like to tell you a story of a neglected neighborhood and how inclusion and partner engagement can be used as a design tool.
Many municipalities have realized the benefits of working with lighting masterplans. Their focus tends to be on how to save energy, and attract people to city centers, which is great for the night-time economy. From my perspective, though, so much more can be achieved – and the best way is getting the public involved.
Malin Christensson – landscape architect at the municipality of Eskilstuna, Sweden – and I worked in several projects over since 2017, which gave us time for forming a relationship and foster curiosity. We both believe that we can contribute to a better and more inclusive society. We strive to inspire creativity and positive feelings, to encourage dialogue and social interaction and even restore some of the beauty of the world we live into the urban landscape.
This illustrative project shows our viewpoint on ingenuity (and participatory planning), collaboration (with electricians, of course, but also with the real estate holders, and the volunteers of the community center) and how our story of integrity and passion led to collaborative dialogue and understanding.
In 2019, Malin called me in Eskilstuna to help make a path feel safer. I became aware of both the demographic data and the issues in this area, as soon as I stepped in; you’d hear news about Fröslunda only if there was a car burning.
It was immediately clear that lighting wouldn’t be enough to transform that space in a place. Malin and I asked ourselves if we could do something more, even very simple, like a makeover of the pavement for the children of the neighborhood. But, of course, there was no budget…
We wanted to help people feel safe and secure but it also contribute to social cohesion: well-lit environments in underprivileged areas improve self-worth and growth expectations, in particular in children and adolescents. Especially if they are invited to participate in the project.…
We met the local stakeholders, especially Malin Sturk, the coordinator for safety at the municipality who put us in touch with the schools and Abdul Ahmed Enow the leader of the community center Fröet. We asked to help up by organizing a few meetings with the children and young women… So, it happened…
We met 70 kids in 4 workshops, mostly women, from several countries and two continents. They have one thing in common, not their skin color, not their language, nor age: they are afraid by the forest that surrounds the path that brings them every day to school. During the workshops Malin and I engaged them in 4 levels of activities, based on their age and group of interest. Painting glass jars for holding candles, drawing their path from home to school, assess the path as well as their concerns; all of them cut paper chains…
I actually did some design too – based on the analysis done with the teenagers, who felt very responsible and dignified – but the most challenging part was to raise funds. We met the real estate owners and showed the results of the workshops; they promised to put in order their side of the landscape, at least. Meanwhile, I got in touch with several manufacturers to get the best quality/price of course, but also a larger discount, so the city could use part of the initial budget to fix the pavement!
We didn’t just include the kids by using their suggestion for the design: we wanted them to own the project, and to leave a clear mark of their contribution. I wanted to transfer one of the “paper chain”, a flower, on the shade of the lighting fixtures. I choose a machine for laser engraving, a tool often used in advertisement. The kids’ pattern will be a memento, a symbol of inclusion for the neighborhood.
On the opening, besides the exhibition with the results of the workshops, organized by the community center, the residents gathered around the fire of our passion (and of their new grill place!). Real estate owners joined too and are now planning more activities in the area; while journalist, hopefully, won’t only write about vandalism and inclusion’s issues in Fröslunda!
In conclusion, I would like to argue for widespread, sustained sharing knowledge and bridging the client-designer gap as a tool for better co-creation and design. Malin and I keep on balancing very ambitious design goals, with realistic aspirations, while focusing on bridging our knowledge gaps.
I wish everyone a heartwarming project like this: I believe that the time is right for enhancing urban life and make it more productive, pleasant and interesting. Personally, I aim to do that for the people, with people, through light.
Another wish would be to know how many colleagues are interested in this type of design, or if they already do similar things. I would love to get in touch with you, so please, I will be very grateful if you send your comments to the email firstname.lastname@example.org