New lighting to be installed in Sheffield park thanks to Landscape Architecture students

New lighting will be installed in Sheffield’s Ponderosa park, thanks in part to the research and campaigning of current and former students from the Department of Landscape Architecture and the pressure group Our Bodies Our Streets.

Alison Romaine and Emma Beaumont with their lighting sculpture
Alison (L) carried out research exploring perceptions of safety at night, whilst Emma (R) helped to secure funding

Recent graduate Emma Beaumont has helped to secure £113,000 funding from the Home Office for the new scheme, along with campaign group Our Bodies Our Streets.

The group appealed to Sheffield Council to install the lighting, to help improve feelings of safety among park users, women and girls in particular.

Ponderosa Park was highlighted by the group as a location where women had been victims of harassment and reported feeling unsafe.

Third year BA Architecture and Landscape student Alison Romaine, who was involved in previous campaigning with the group, said: "this current round of funding and subsequent lighting response should only be the start."

"Future funding must focus on community consultation, holistic education and intersectional co-design, to ensure a more sustainable response, informed by people's lived-experience."

When light falls, it should not be presumed that this is no longer a woman’s space

Alison Romaine

3rd year undergraduate student

As part of the Sheffield Undergraduate Research Experience, Alison carried out a six-week project, exploring perceptions of nocturnal safety and the role of Landscape Architects in influencing this.

She said: “the nocturnal landscape is often forgotten, underfunded or just a functional afterthought. It is important that landscape is equitably accessible day and night.”

“Inclusion, which centres on people’s nuanced experiences must be part of the design process. All genders and people have a right to the city. When light falls, it should not be presumed that this is no longer a woman’s space.”

The Ponderosa park in Sheffield
The new lighting will be installed in Sheffield's Ponderosa Park

Participants in Alison's research were asked to draw a map of a recent, night-time journey home and to point out where on the journey they felt safe or unsafe and why. Were they alone or were other people around? What could they hear at different points along the journey? Did they have memories attached to certain spaces?

Participants were also presented with a set of images of landscapes at night and asked to rate which they perceived as most and least safe.

Alison added: “the discussions highlighted that structural and systemic issues – like gender violence and racism – are woven into people’s perceptions of safety and these cannot just be ‘designed-out’ in isolation.”

“However, landscape and urban design can still be an active player in permitting people’s right to the city and reclaiming space for all.”

Reclaiming the nocturnal streetscape

Key findings from Alison's research

Not all lighting is equal - context and creativity is critical to safety perception
Ambient lighting that allows for wayfinding, in combination with more playful design are preferred over conventional streets lights. These often create high contrasts of light and dark space and clunkily erase the potentially restorative atmosphere of the night.

Fear cannot be ‘designed out’ in isolation
Night space is relational - its experience is made up of both physical design and societal conditioning. Socialising women to fear the night reproduces spatial inequality.

Keep surveillance casual
Buildings that have illuminated, transparent facades help participants feel protected and create a wam, inviting nightscape.

Night space is complex - it can be both playful and predatory
Night evokes an ‘out-of-hours’ feeling that can create peaceful and playful experiences, but also enables predatory behaviour. Participants noted how they had more ‘headspace’ at night. When creating safer spaces, it is critical to tune into the restorative elements of the night.

Alison added: “Landscape Architects and urban designers need to be activists and advocates to champion creative lighting solutions that improve urban safety and pride in cities, so lighting does not just become a ‘tick-box’ exercise.”

“This can be a challenge as top-down funding often favours conventional systems that are familiar and are ‘less-risk’ for decision makers. For truly sustainable and inclusive solutions, a diversity of experiences needs to be included in the design process.”

“Experimentation is key in order to not erase the benefits of the night! Reductionist ‘solutions’ of universal flood lighting and over-policing must be rejected in favour of embracing experimental – be it playful or temporary – interventions that remain open to ambiguity and discovery. Landscape Architects are neatly situated for this untidy experimentation and can promote public education in the process.”

Landscape Architects need to champion creative lighting solutions, so lighting does not become a ‘tick-box’ exercise

Alison Romaine

3rd year undergraduate student

The Sheffield Undergraduate Research Experience provides funded scholarships to undergraduate students to conduct short, six-week research projects over the summer break, working in partnership with academic staff. Alison’s project was supervised by Research Fellow Dr Lauriane Chalmin-Pui.

Our Bodies, Our Streets first unveiled an art installation in the Ponderosa in July 2021, to raise awareness of women’s safety. It was subsequently destroyed in an arson attack and a fundraising campaign to replace the sculpture with a permanent one is underway.

"We wanted to create something tangible to raise awareness of women's safety"

Reclaiming the nocturnal streetscape

Research by Alison Romaine; Supervision Dr Lauriane Chalmin-Pui; part of the Sheffield Undergraduate Research Experience

Reclaiming the nocturnal streetscape
Reclaiming the nocturnal streetscape
Reclaiming the nocturnal streetscape