Lighting Cities: Creating Safer Spaces for Women and Girls

Deferring to more lights and brighter cities does not create safer spaces for women and girls. Lighting design is vital for gender-sensitive cities.

Image Credit: Toby Welsh, ARUP

Never felt safe walking in this area, even if I am not alone. The lighting is terrible and the design of the walkways leaves a lot of spots hidden from view.

Female, age 19

Understand the patterns that exclude women from areas of cities and not deferring to the usual responses – brighter lighting, more CCTV cameras and more authority figures - is vital for gender-sensitive spaces.

We know that creating safer cities for women requires one fundamental shift: that we listen to women’s voices. We need to develop urban strategies and planning policies that draw on women’s experience and expertise as users of city spaces.

XYX Lab research with young women into unsafe “hotspots” found that their perceptions of urban safety did not correlate with the most brightly lit spaces.

The research struck on some compelling correlations between light levels and unsafe places. Partnering with ARUP lighting designers this research analysied over 80 of the most unsafe “hotspots” identified by women in Melbourne, and found that high illuminance – or very bright and overlit spaces – did not correlate with young women’s perceptions of urban safety.

This is important information as planners often light spaces to a high “P” Category (a measure used in urban place-making guidelines) of lighting. It’s assumed this will reduce the risk of crime and increase the feeling of safety.

This collaborative research shows that designing lighting that is positive for women’s urban experience requires more nuance. The findings show that sites with higher light levels are more likely to be perceived as unsafe sites – the average light level across these sites was twice what was measured across safe sites. This is a finding with the potential to radically change a city’s approach to lighting for safety.

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