Sticky Streets: Enhancing Urban Spaces with Street Lights

sticky streets hollywood boulevard

Sticky Streets: Enhancing Urban Spaces with Street Lights

Over the last few years, urban planners have become increasingly focused on sticky streets. But what exactly are they and what do street lights have to do with it?

The term, sticky streets was first coined by urbanist and city planner Brent Toderian. It refers to a street’s ability to encourage people to linger for longer.

To Toderian, a street was sticky if it made people slow down and appreciate their surroundings. “A street is sticky if, as you move along it, you’re constantly enticed to slow down, stop and linger to enjoy the public life around you,” he says.

According to Toderian, streets need to be seen as more than just thoroughfares to and from work. They need to be seen as “people places”.

sticky streets hollywood boulevard
A true Sticky Street, Hollywood Boulevard is a Los Angeles cultural icon, with museums, landmarks, and other Hollywood attractions that celebrate L.A.'s rich film and entertainment heritage.

Urbanization and the need for sticky streets

With more than 50% of the world’s population now living in cities (UN Population Division, 2018), the role of our streets as places for people – not just cars – has become increasingly important.

Sticky streets have environmental, social, economic and health benefits. They encourage active transport and promote incidental social interaction which has positive health benefits. They are also good for local businesses, who benefit from more foot traffic.

There is a strong connection between street stickiness and walkability, another idea that has taken hold with urban planners. In his article published in Planetizen, Toderian says, “Much of our efforts as urbanists in recent years has been promoting the concept of more walkable cities. As we think about street design however, great streets should be both walkable AND sticky. In fact, the two are completely synergistic.”

How do you make a sticky street?

We’ve all experienced sticky streets – those humming, thrumming public places that make you want to stop and stick around. Sometimes these spaces have been carefully planned that way. But often they occur organically too, frequently in spite of poor planning. It’s this X-factor that can make people think that sticky streets are hard to create. But making streets sticky doesn’t have to be complicated. “When you see streets as people-places, those things that slow down a pedestrian’s pace may be the very things that make a street great,” says Toderian.

Quotation mark graphic
“When you see streets as people-places, those things that slow down a pedestrian’s pace may be the very things that make a street great”

One of the most important things to consider when designing sticky streets is that “the most interesting thing for people to look at is other people”. Elements like “patio dining, food carts, attractive seating” or just “lively store windows that can draw a crowd” can contribute to making a street stickier.

Using street lights to make streets sticky at night

At night time, street lights become an important way to increase stickiness too. People need to feel safe and be able to see each other if they’re going to stick around.

Findings released by the World Economic Forum (WEF), following their annual meeting in January 2024, suggest that sticky streets at night are an issue of equity, stating that: “in the modern 24-hour world, city life does not stop when the sun goes down” and that “a resilient, equitable, and prosperous city must work for everyone, at every hour”. 

In another report released by ARUP in 2020, street lights were found to have the potential to increase “dwell time” in cities at night:

“[Street] lighting can play a pivotal role in revitalizing high streets and town centers by enhancing the attractiveness of the environment, improving perceptions of safety, and ultimately increasing footfall, dwell time and spend.”

Closer to home, an article by the City of Melbourne noted that street lights at night “help to create interesting spaces and events”. Without adequate lighting, streets can become spaces void of interaction, interest, and people.

Retrofitting stickiness with solar street lights

Solar street lighting is an excellent, environmentally friendly way to retrofit sticky streets that have already proven popular during the day. Leadsun’s range of solar street lights including solar pole lights, solar bollard lights, and bespoke lighting solutions including fairy lights can be quickly and easily installed into existing streetscapes without the need for trenching or electrical cables.

As Todarian says, “great cities know that streets are also places to linger and enjoy”. Solar street lights are a sustainable way to help make our cities great, extending the social, environmental, economic and health benefits of sticky streets from the day, into the night.

ARUP, the role of lighting in supporting town centre regeneration and economic recovery, 2020. Report attached to client as a PDF file.

Brent Toderian, Let’s make sticky streets for people, Planetizen, 2014. Accessed April 8th, 2024, via: https://www.planetizen.com/node/69454

City of Melbourne, Street Lighting improves visibility, creates interesting spaces and events, Accessed April 10th 2024 via: https://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/residents/home-neighbourhood/street-lighting/Pages/street-lighting.aspx#:~:text=Good%20public%20lighting%20improves%20visibility,create%20interesting%20spaces%20and%20events.

UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 68% of the population projected to live in urban areas by 2050 says UN, 2018. Accessed April 8th, 2024, via: https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html

World Economic Forum, Findings from meeting January 2024: Accessed April 8th 2024 via: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2024/01/24-hour-cities-night-time-strategies-urban-challenges/