Creating Safer & More Attractive Public Spaces After Dark – A Light At The End Of The COVID-19 Tunnel

Like many Victorians on Saturday, I wanted to get back outside and hit a track, trail, or pathway to take advantage of the mild conditions. Before COVID-19 – and for the last several years – the 1000 Steps (in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne) had been my destination of choice to get amongst nature and enjoy the fresh air and open spaces while challenging myself up and down the steps. I’ve always loved how healthy and revitalized it makes me feel.

So, on Saturday, with lockdown restrictions easing and parks reopening, I decided the time had come to reacquaint myself with ‘the steps’. Unfortunately, my reacquaintance ended before it even began.

Why? Because hundreds – perhaps thousands – of others had the same idea. The park was packed, with the adjacent road and streets jammed with cars and more people wanting to get in, bringing traffic to a standstill. The whole experience was like arriving at the concert of a huge music star, but in this case, the only star was ‘The Steps’ and she’s been the resident star attraction for decades. So why all the fuss now?

Maybe it’s because there seems to now be a surge in people realizing that exercise and physical activity doesn’t need to be sophisticated. It doesn’t need a gym or a tennis court. There’s been almost a collective realization that walking is the most convenient, simplest exercise most of us can do.

Which it is. But does this now pose an even greater risk to people’s health?

What I realized on Saturday was that although we have so many amazing open spaces with walkways and trails, we still don’t always have the time to use them during weekday daylight hours. It seems we still have to leave it to the weekends.

Only now, those weekends and those parks are full of a lot more people than before. People who have now discovered (or rediscovered) the joy of exercising out in our parks. But, with social-distancing recommendations still rightly in place, is this surge in numbers of people crowding into our parks on the weekends putting people at even greater risk of COVID-19 transmission?

Don’t get me wrong – it’s fantastic that so many more people are appreciating just how physically and mentally beneficial walking out in our parks can be. But what Saturday’s experience showed me is that we do indeed have the challenge to ensure we can maintain social-distancing measures while allowing people to continue to enjoy our world-leading parks and open public spaces.

It’s a great challenge to have, but it’s still a challenge. But like many challenges, when you look at it a bit more closely, there’s a clear silver lining of opportunity.

What if we could upgrade existing facilities and extend their hours of usage beyond just daylight hours, particularly from Monday to Friday when people are usually at their busiest? To allow people to use those facilities after daylight hours too?

There are currently limited options for attractive, safe walking paths or trails that people can use after hours, and it seems many of our most fantastic open spaces and community assets are underutilized.

There’s a clear opportunity – perhaps even a community and health responsibility – to extend their hours of usage.

A silver lining in golden public assets.

If we could extend these spaces’ usable hours, we could turn already-established networks of community infrastructure into golden assets that can be used not just during daylight hours, but in the early morning and evenings as well.

We saw it in the mid-90s when we extended hours of retail shopping on Thursday and Friday nights, and how popular that has become. Also, we already extend the usable hours of other recreation and sporting facilities with adequate lighting, like tennis, allowing people to do these activities outside daylight hours. Why should walking trails and pathways be any different? Why shouldn’t walking for exercise and leisure be deemed just as important as tennis?

After all, as is so rightly pointed out by Victoria Walks Inc – a walking health promotion charity working to get more Victorians walking every day – if you design communities for automobiles, you get more automobiles. If you design them for people, you get walkable, liveable communities.[1]

Walkable public spaces make good health and economic sense – but safety is still a huge concern.

Walking for exercise is the most common form of transport in Melbourne, and has huge benefits both for health and economics. Recreational walking, for example, is by far the most common physical activity for Australians aged 15 years or over, with nearly 45% of the population actively walking for recreation at least once a year[2].

However, we haven’t got anywhere near enough attractive, inviting, and safely lit environments to accommodate our recreational walkers. Because where Australia really falls down is on gender disparity in feeling safe in public spaces at night. While Australian men feel above-average safety, only women in Chile, Mexico, and Hungary feel less safe walking alone at night. For every 10 Australian men who say they feel safe walking at night, there are only 6.3 women who would say the same – the worst gender differential in the OECD [3]

It is clear that limited walking options in some places create barriers and concerns about personal safety, particularly for women.

The SMART light at the end of the tunnel.

Integrating public lighting systems can make all the above a reality, however, until recently, there have been three key barriers to this – Number 1. High cost for installation and ongoing electricity fees, Number 2. Disruption and Destruction caused during the installation process by trenching underground electric wiring, Number 3. The length of time it takes for permits and specifications to be drawn up from electricity companies before a project can become shovel-ready.

However, there is now a solution that overcomes these barriers and enables people to exercise when they want and where they want in an open space environment that has enhanced safety and is attractive to use. It’s called Smart Public Lighting.

It’s SMART because it is far more: 

Sustainable, in that it’s completely powered by the sun and off the electricity grid.

Modern, in terms of both innovative technical functionality and design aesthetic.

Adaptive in the different environments it can be installed in and operate specific to the needs of a given application.

Robust, both in build quality and dependable performance that can withstand electricity blackouts and brownouts.

Technologically advanced, through the most innovative functionality like wireless remote control and monitoring and automatic dimming functions that automatically adjusts the level of brightness upon detection of pedestrian movement around the lights.

The solution is as clear as day – or hopefully, night.

LEADSUN proudly specializes in innovative SMART public lighting solutions for open spaces – in particular, for walking trails, shared pathways, recreation reserves, and car parks.

As SMART public lighting specialists working with trusted local government and corporate partners since 2005, we are industry leaders in the provision of efficient, smart public lighting solutions that have enhanced the safety of communities across Australia and the world. 

Now more than ever, we’re here to bring light to Australia’s public spaces, easily and efficiently.

Click here to learn more about how we can light up your part of the world.

[1] Parris Glendening and Christine Todd Whitman in Victoria Walks Corporate Supporter Guide.

[2] Victoria walks 2019, Walking and transport in Melbourne suburbs.

[3] Ibid.