© Don Slater LSC

Community-focused night-time lighting design

Through this research, we have developed a methodology to create urban illumination programmes that are configured to build community connections and to improve existing urban night-time environments. The methodology focuses on stakeholder cooperation and development of lighting programmes with a strong community involvement component.

The research used Cartagena, Colombia as a case study. Cartagena is making strides in renovation, but the city also relies on its colourful and edgy authenticity – a quality that gentrification threatens to obliterate. Arup’s urban lighting group carried out an interdisciplinary investigation in Getsemani, a quarter of Cartagena that adjoins the UNESCO-designated, historic walled city centre. The city’s authentic characteristics were a key focus of the work.

During the pilot programme in Getsemani, we developed the project framework and conducted a NightSeeing™ night tour and a hands-on community workshop. The team conducted social research, collected quantitative and qualitative data through workshops and site studies, and developed Arup’s sustainability appraisal tool, SPeAR®, for application to night-time lighting design. Preliminary guidelines were drafted for the design methodology, configured to promote authenticity of place and connect people by melding private and urban lighting for the public good. Although urban and landscape designers often consult with local communities, lighting designers usually don’t do this.


This project demonstrated that the night has its own special conditions, requiring shared, creative solutions.

Night-time design is applicable to several disciplines including urban planning, historical preservation, infrastructure, cultural heritage, economic livelihood, tourism and mobility.

Night-time design and urban lighting are activators, encouraging discussion and problem solving.

For Getsemani, Colombia, our lighting design accentuates the district’s distinct character with a blend of old and new, in physical and symbolic ways, to reduce friction between tourists, residents and commercial activity.

Through this research we created a consolidated approach about how to tackle night-time design projects. This approach can contribute to improved lighting masterplans, strategies, and urban lighting designs. Outcomes of our investigation are of use to infrastructure and planning experts, governmental bodies, municipalities, public private partnerships (PPP), developers and energy utilities.

The pilot project we executed in Getsemani, a touristic and emblematic historical district, stands as a highly visible case study in Colombian and Latin American cities. During the LightWalk commentary in Getsemani, pedestrianisation was loudly cheered by attendees and passers-by.

Our team posits a strong vision: an integrated layer of illumination that unifies, softens edges and builds upon existing typologies, in a neighbourhood-scaled series of lighted objects. This approach is not a heavy-handed, intimidating layout of street poles. It is not sterile.  Lighting can underscore and accentuate the character of a district with a blend of old and new, in a physical and symbolic way reducing friction between tourists, residents and new commercial activity. Additionally, with the goal of improving community connections, our proposal to use private property for public lighting can galvanize stakeholders - locals, owners, agencies, institutions - to work together to inform and allow installation of the design.

Our work can be a point of departure for addressing critical issues of social and planning policy. The interdisciplinary research done in Getsemani raised significant discussions relevant for urban planning, such as historical preservation, infrastructure upgrade, cultural heritage, economic livelihood, tourism and mobility. Night-time design proved to be an effective channel to activate a discussion and begin thinking of integral design solutions. Moreover, it could provide a project stakeholder body with the knowledge they would need to update the local land-use and zoning policies.