ENLIGHTENme: Exploring the impact of urban lighting on health and wellbeing

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While EU cities have worked on improving urban lighting services, this has mostly focussed on efficiency, reducing costs and lowering emissions. Yet, it has failed to consider the effect urban lighting may have on citizens’ health and wellbeing. This will be the focus of the new research project ENLIGHTENme, a collaboration of 22 international partners from ten countries. Funded through the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme, the project will receive EUR 5 million over the next four years. ENLIGHTENme will be coordinated by the University of Bologna in Italy. Together with five other projects, ENLIGHTENme is part of the EU’s new “Urban Health” cluster.

With a growing world population and rising urbanisation comes an underestimated by-product: the increase of human exposure to electric light at night. This includes public outdoor illumination, the artificial sky glow created by highly urbanised areas, but also light exposure at the individual level, such as domestic lighting and light-emitting screens. Inappropriate and disruptive light exposure at night or too little light exposure during the day profoundly affects people’s circadian rhythm, health and wellbeing. Especially older adults over 65 years of age are prone to be impacted, with consequences for epigenetics and metabolism, predisposition to diseases including cancer, neurodegeneration, and psychiatric disease. Knowledge about the health effects and guidance for adequate urban lighting strategies have the potential to substantially counteract these developments.

This is where ENLIGHTENme comes into play: Bringing together experts from different scientific fields and sectors such as urban development and health research, the ENLIGHTENme team aims to collect evidence about the impact outdoor and indoor lighting has on human health – especially in elderly people who are known to be particularly prone to suffer circadian misalignment. Moreover, ENLIGHTENme sets out to develop and test innovative solutions and policies that will offset health inequalities in European cities.

“Central to the success of ENLIGHTENme is a transdisciplinary approach, combining strong expertise from various fields and thematic areas: clinical and biomedical sciences, ethics and Responsible Research & Innovation (RRI), data accessibility and interoperability, as well as social sciences and economics. Together we will shed light on a multitude of relevant aspects and correlations such as mental health, lighting design, urban design and planning, wellbeing and quality of life, and technology development and application. The implementation of innovative lighting policies, whose cost-effectiveness and impact on health will be assessed by a population-based trial and qualitative fieldwork, will make it possible to evaluate the consequences of proposed solutions and decisions made in non-health sectors for public health and wellbeing”, explains Prof. Simona Tondelli, Professor at the Department of Architecture at the University of Bologna and coordinator of the ENLIGHTENme consortium.

Through an open, online “Urban Lighting and Health Atlas”, ENLIGHTENme will collect and systematise existing data and good practices on urban lighting and will perform an accurate study on the correlations between health, wellbeing, lighting and socio-economic factors. To this end, the project will conduct three in-depth studies in selected districts of Bologna (Italy), Amsterdam (The Netherlands) and Tartu (Estonia). By establishing an “Urban Lighting Lab” in each target district of the three cities, the ENLIGHTENme team aims to identify the widest range of relevant stakeholders, including citizens and city officials, to engage and educate them in lighting and health issues, and involve them in co-designing and assessing lighting innovations.

Based on their research findings, the ENLIGHTENme team ultimately aims to provide tools to support the decision-making process enabling the planning of healthy urban lighting policies, thus allowing to identify priorities in interventions according to inequalities and light exposure levels, to compare the impacts of different lighting scenarios and to define criteria and technical requirements to be adopted to ensure the integration of health and wellbeing in urban lighting policy plans.

Prof. Tondelli adds: “ENLIGHTENme will not only improve the health of citizens in urban areas on an individual level, but it will also provide the evidence needed for policymaking on improved urban health on a political level. Equally important is also the reduction of health inequalities through the inclusion of citizens normally not involved in the drafting of urban lighting plans.”

The consortium comprises partner institutions from Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the US. The project will officially kick off its activities with a first virtual meeting from 4 to 5 March 2021.

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Media Contact
Matteo Benni
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