the Neighborhood Design Center
Project No. 3888

Signal Station North: An Arts District's Plan for Equitable Lighting

From 2019 to 2021, the Neighborhood Design Center partnered with a coalition of Station North Stakeholders to lead a two-year community engagement, planning, and prototyping process that sought to understand light's impact on the nighttime environment and our sense of comfort and place, illuminate the city's lighting history and infrastructure, and bring transparency and access to everyday citizens.

What We Did

  • Co-Design
  • Community Engagement
  • Lighting Analysis
  • Light Planning
  • Co-Learning
  • Toolkit Development
  • Lighting Prototyping

Partners

  • Flux Studio
  • PI.KL Studio
  • Public Mechanics
  • April Lewis
  • Central Baltimore Partnership
  • Station North Arts District
  • BARCO
  • MICA
  • Greenmount West Community Association
  • Greater Greenmount Community Association
  • Charles North Community Association
  • Greenmount West Community Center
  • Open Works

Supporters

  • BDOT
  • BGE
  • The National Endowment for the Arts
  • The France Merrick Foundation
SSN Before image caption working
SSN Before image caption working

The North Avenue Stakeholders committee conducted a block-audit that identified LIGHT as one of the top 3 infrastructure issues.

The Challenge: Bringing a new perspective to public lighting. 

Over the past decade, stakeholders in Station North have identified poor quality or lack of lighting as a challenge to cultural activity, street life, and investment. Driven by these observations, the District received a $150,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), matched by a $150,000 from the Central Baltimore Partnership to fund Signal Station North.

Why create a project around public space lighting?

It’s common to find planning documents that address transportation, green space, or the streetscape, and yet there are few examples of plans focused specifically on lighting infrastructure.

Light supports our experience in public spaces in obvious ways, like lighting our way, but also some less obvious ways — it helps us keep time, it serves as a guidepost, it creates a sense of place.

And, just as light can welcome us in, it can also keep us out. Light can make us feel alert, focused, wary. Or it make us assured, calm, and invited. These were the issues that rooted our thinking as we began work on Signal.

Light is a part of the public realm that we often overlook — it’s most evident in its absence.

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Research and Data Collection 

Data collection was centered on two main activities: an analysis of current lighting conditions in the District, and a mapping exercise to help us understand people’s experience of the nighttime environment. Flux Studio conducted the lighting analysis, and NDC led the mapping interviews, but critically, both efforts were informed by the other.

We wanted to understand how these current conditions map onto the ways people actually use the district at night. The Flux team and NDC staff worked to develop a mapping tool designed to document users’ experiences of the District after dark.

We asked participants about their nighttime destinations, the routes they take to and from those destinations, and their relative comfort levels. Later, we added a question about “desired routes” — routes that people would like to take, but choose not to because of feelings of discomfort.

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During this Flash Event, residents took to the streets with flashlights and glow sticks to show the difference between lit and unlit spaces. The playful exercise sparked ideas for what could be possible in their neighborhood. Credit: Karl Connolly Photography
During this Flash Event, residents took to the streets with flashlights and glow sticks to show the difference between lit and unlit spaces. The playful exercise sparked ideas for what could be possible in their neighborhood. Credit: Karl Connolly Photography

“Light that is complementary to its context encourages us to appreciate the nuances of the place it brightens.”

Ruby Waldo

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Zine Publications

We produced and shared broadly two public guides in the form of “zines,” developed in collaboration with artist and 2020 France-Merrick Fellow Ruby Waldo: A Guide to Noticing Light in the Neighborhood and A Guide to Negotiating Light in the Neighborhood.

The first offers readers different ways of looking, observing, and understanding light in the nighttime environment. The second offers practical approaches to acting on the City’s lighting infrastructure, including illustrated guides to reporting an outed streetlight and advocating for new lighting investment in your neighborhood. These were distributed in all 3 neighborhoods of the District in custom newspaper kiosks.

“We wanted to offer something that everyone — whether they have internet or not — could interact with.”

Merrell Hambleton

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Light Walks and Workshops

The Neighborhood Design Center led 6 “Light Walks” through the District, guiding participants through a tour of the nighttime environment informed by history, science, and policy.

On the theme of visibility, we partnered with artist April Danielle Lewis to host “We’re Here” workshops where residents could make their own free reflective t-shirt that helped them feel seen. Then we gathered for a party and powerful group walk, wearing our shirts and shining into the night, accompanied by Dynasty Marching Unit.

In partnership with Futuremakers, we led a youth workshop for creating simple LED lanterns. Artist and educator Maura Dwyer lead a youth workshop for creating at-home Crankies—small projection boxes used to share illustrated stories.

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