Bringing Cities to Life with Light

From thisbigcityy Gareth Pearson – contributor to Future Cape Town, a This Big City partner site. 

cape town light

This post is also available in: Chinese (Traditional)

It’s strange to think how dependent we are on our little bit of Earth facing the sun. Every day, as the sun passes beyond the horizon, we flea for safety. A bustling street, full of people during the day, can become a completely different space at night. As soon as people leave (to the suburbs), shops close, and the light vanishes, and a street can become a very uninviting space. In my home city of Cape Town, there are a number of streets that do facilitate the presence of humans at night, most obviously Long Street, but most streets ‘shut down’, leaving no reasons for anyone to use them.

Light has a tremendous ability to transform a place. The use of light as an artistic medium, and a building as a canvas, can change an otherwise dark street in the city into an inviting, mesmerizing place to gather. Cape Town’s Adderley Street is transformed when the festive season lights are turned on every year, and theInfecting the City public arts festival is a notable example as well. The Cape Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance in Church Square, with the National Mutual Life building lit up in the background, or the performance of Ilulwane in the red-lit pool of Long Street Baths, show how light installations can change our perceptions and experience of a place.

There are endless international examples of light being used in some form in public spaces. Berlin’s Festival of Lights (pictured above), groups like Nuit Blanche, the recent Dumbo Arts Festival, and Greyworld’s Trafalgar Sun installation, all manage to drastically change city spaces and attract people to them. People gather like moths around a lightbulb. Even New York City’s Times Square may be used as an example. It’s flickering advertisements alone, attract people from across the world, and now Times Square is becoming a place to showcase artwork. Times Square Moment is a way to showcase artwork on some of the screens a few minutes before midnight. Artwork is even being created with the primary purpose of displaying it in Times Square, and the amount of display time is being increased as well.

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