Skip to main content

This site uses cookies to provide you with a better user experience. By using, you accept our use of cookies.Learn More

Using Light in Placemaking

Lighting can spark romance, community, wonder, and a sense of wellbeing, but its modern accessibility has perhaps dimmed the lights on these sensations. How can we use lighting to enhance our public spaces?

By Dave Galbraith


September 27, 2018

The lamps that laced every building and walkway produced the most elaborate demonstration of electric illumination ever attempted and the first large-scale test of alternating current. The Fair alone consumed three times as much electricity as the entire city of Chicago. These were important engineering milestones, but what visitors adored was the sheer beauty of seeing so many lights ignited in one place, at one time. The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson.

I wonder what it would have been like to attend the 1893 Colombian Exposition and what my reaction would have been to the never-so-extensively-used display of electrical lighting. Imagine walking the streets of a major city like Chicago fully illuminated at night for the first time.

Nowadays, lighting is something that we easily take for granted. Perhaps it is because light is so readily available to us at the flick of a switch, clap of the hands, or an ‘OK Google’ command.

The same rings true for planners, architects and landscape architects. Unfortunately, lighting is more often an afterthought rather than a guiding principle of design. When properly used, lighting can transform a space. It can make streets safer, more vibrant, interesting and dynamic.

On September 29th the City of Waterloo will host its Lumen Festival, which will celebrate the power of light and its ability to transform and build a community. Lumen will showcase light-based new media, media art, and projection-based installations throughout the Uptown area of the City.

In addition to showcasing new technologies and a range of locally and nationally acclaimed performers, the event will highlight the City of Waterloo’s recently implemented Uptown Streetscape Improvements designed by IBI Group, which includes a thematic tree lighting element along the King Street corridor. These thematic tree lights can be programmed for other special events and public holidays, in a broad array of colours and patterns.

Additional details on the Lumen Festivals and a comprehensive list of performers are available of the City of Waterloo’s website.

Dave is an Urban Planner in IBI Group’s Waterloo Office, where he has worked for the past 3 primarily on private land development projects throughout southwestern Ontario.  He is a participant of IBI’s first LEAD training program.  

IBI Group’s LEAD program is designed to support employees who have the potential and desire to be future leaders within IBI Group; with the goal of assisting participants to learn about themselves, enhance new skills, and develop leadership competencies.


Photo by Damon Lam on Unsplash

Related Tags

Contact UsContact Us