Researchers explore public response to new street lighting practices

A symposium on “New ways of lighting the streets at night” will take place at the 22nd IAPS (International Association People and Environment Studies) Conference at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow from the 24th to the 29th of June 2012. Antal Haans, Assistant Professor of environmental psychology of human-technology interaction in Eindhoven, and organiser of this thematic session on lighting tells us more…



What is the objective of the symposium? 
The objective of the symposium is to bring together researchers interested in new lighting technologies, in specific researchers interested in the psychological requirements behind and end user’s appraisal of such new technologies. Such an understanding is pressing as more than ever will we see changes in how we light the streets at night. There are two reasons for that: First, the technology itself is radically changing, thinks of LEDs, OLEDs, and new sensing and wireless communication possibilities that allow for adaptive lighting (i.e., adaptive to end users’ needs and preferences). Second, there is the societal demand for more sustainable lighting, with respect to reducing both energy consumption and light pollution. Currently, however, our psychological understanding of people’s preferences and appraisal is far behind on the technology push.

What have you learnt by evaluating users’ experiences with new lighting technologies?
At the Intelligent Lighting Institute we are currently investigating the technology and psychology of intelligent dynamic lighting, which through appropriate sensing technologies offers light only when and where road users need it most. What we have learnt from our initial field experiments on people’s appraisal of various dynamic lighting scenarios is that it is difficult to formulate requirements for dynamic lighting installations, because we do not have a sufficient theoretical understanding of how perceptions of safety are formed and what the role of lighting is in this process. This lack of a theoretical understanding is not limited to dynamic lighting, but is general to the field of public lighting. For conventional lighting, which is on always and everywhere, good guidelines may be a available with respect to luminance levels and uniformity, but these are the result of extensive empirical observations without much grounding in theory. As Kurt Lewin (often considered one of the founding fathers of environmental psychology) argued “there is nothing more practical than a good theory”, and this is especially true in our present time when the technological developments are rapidly changing, and when we may come to see more diversity in how cities are illuminated.

Are new technologies changing user’s expectations and demands regarding public lighting? How?
I expect so, societal demands for more sustainable public lighting will change, or may already have changed, people’s appraisal of conventional lighting technologies. They will become regarded more and more as something undesirable (i.e., polluting). At the same time, the technology push, and the stated, perhaps sometimes exaggerated, efficiency of LEDs and dynamic lighting installations, will surely
contribute to how we come to regard more conventional solutions. It is difficult as an end user not to ponder about the environmental impact of public lighting when confronted with bright green LEDs in one’s neighborhood, for example.

What are some of the factors that contribute to or impede public acceptance of new lighting technologies? 
This remains to be seen. In any case, I suspect it to be a combination of people’s beliefs about a lighting technology (e.g., with respect to environmental impact), their trust in the claims of municipalities and lighting manufacturers, the manner in which the new lighting system is implemented (i.e., do citizens have some saying in, for example, the type of luminaire), and of course also their direct experience with such technologies when implemented in their own streets. As such, little has changed in comparison to more conventional lighting. However, I expect the end user’s appraisal to become more important nowadays, simply because there will be more to choose from–because more technological options become available of which the public too is increasingly aware.

What implications could this have on how cities light their streets?
The new technological developments promise more diversity in options, and thus more ways for cities to distinguish themselves. However, I expect that cities will need to be more careful in addressing the needs of citizens. For the same reasons as above: If municipalities have only a single option (give and take some small variability that exist even with the conventional guidelines), then one expects little public opposition, let alone a need to include citizens in the implementation process. In most general situations that is, as even with conventional technologies citizen’s may demand changes in lighting, for example, at crossings that are perceived as dangerous. I just expect more of such involvement of the general public in the future.

What role does public participation play?
I am not an expert in how public participation may affect implementation choices and outcomes, but I foresee a participation of the public in ways that are different from what we know now. These novel lighting technologies, with sensors and adaptive behaviors, will be difficult to test in laboratories and even traditional test sites. These systems may have all kinds on unintended and unforeseen side effects (e.g., in terms of emerging behavioral patterns of road users) that may be difficult, if not impossible, to test in traditional ways. What I expect to see, is that new technological propositions (i.e., in the early stages of development) will be deployed, tested and redeveloped, within the city itself (e.g., in so-called Experiential Design Landscapes). This will pose organizational, legal and ethical challenges, but will have benefits for all: Manufacturers will be able to maintain their economic lead due to a reduction in time-to-market (which also benefits the economic climate of the region), municipalities can more easily keep track of new developments and together with citizens may tune the design process, and finally researchers can study and test new lighting technologies in real-life situations (outside of the confines of the laboratory). Whatever the future may bring, these are exciting times for all of us.

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