Impact Case Study

Highlighting urban place-making

Researchers are changing perceptions of the importance of illumination in place-making strategies and generating an impact on tourism and heritage.

How it started

Dr Tim Edensor and Dr Steve Millington began looking at urban illumination, as there was so little existing research on place-making, popular culture and lighting strategies.

The research started with an investigation into Christmas illuminations and led to further work in that well-known hub of illuminations – Blackpool. Professional feedback and collaboration were involved from the outset.

What we discovered

The research, identified four key insights 1) that illumination can generate a sense of place 2) that light decoration can encourage local creativity 3) that there is a lack of understanding of how illumination and darkness are experienced and interpreted and 4) that over-illumination is ineffective.

Though initiated locally, the research revealed global impacts. They discovered that illuminations have remained insulated from taste-generating design practices internationally.

This research coincided with the emergence of Dark Sky Parks, and resulted in Edensor being invited to play a leading role in a pan-European Berlin-based network 'Loss of the Night'.

Edensor and Millington presented work at the 2013 conferences of the Association of American Geographers and the Institute of British Geographers. Edensor has been awarded a Fellowship at the Institute of Advanced Study at Durham University to study Light.

"The research context helped me to gain vital learning and knowledge which has been instrumental in shaping both my career and my understanding of the complexities in place management."

Chief Operating Officer, City Centre Bid, Liverpool

Why it matters

Edensor and Millington presented their work on Christmas illuminations to a meeting of the Professional Light Designers Association (PDLA) in London. This began an international reach.

The PDLA subsequently commissioned an article for the trade journal Lighting Matters reaching an international audience. It was circulated to over 2500 lighting engineers, lighting designers, consultants, lighting manufacturers and local authority lighting personnel in the UK and globally.

This led to a presentation at Fete Des Lumieres, the international conference of Lighting in Lyon that resulted in further work with light designers all over the world; from Columbia, France, Italy, Germany, China and Sweden.

Locally, the research has influenced the Blackpool Illuminations team who incorporated advice into strategic plans. It’s also helped Blackpool Council to secure significant lottery funding for the development of an archive of popular heritage collections.

The award has assisted ‘with the documentation and re-storage of the Illuminations Collection’,making the collection available to the public, particularly schools.

The research has also underpinned the development of certified qualifications for professional place managers with the Institute of Place Management. Beyond this has been significant public engagement through collaborations with the North-West Film Archive (NWFA).

Media interest has been created via appearances on BBC Radio 3’s Thinking Aloud, articles in the Manchester Evening News and two appearances by Millington on BBC Look North in 2013.

Featured Researcher

Dr Tim Edensor

Tim is a Reader in the Research Centre for Applied Social Sciences. His interests lie in spaces of tourism and national identities.

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Phone 0161 247 6284