How Street Lights Changed Our Lives

Dogs understand lamp posts. These urban markers, points of illumination that allow the streets to be read and navigated in the dark as they are in the day. Dogs mark them for scent, we use them for vision — but, for both species, street lights hugely expand the sensory environment.

Street lighting might seem like a product of modernity, but there is nothing new about it at all. Romans illuminated the streets with oil lamps, and cities from Baghdad to Córdoba were similarly lit when most of Europe was living in what it is now rather unfashionable to call the Dark Ages but which were, from the point of view of street lighting, exactly that.

This informative article by Edwin Heathcote for the Financial Times, looks back at the origins of street lighting and the profound effect it had on the lives of those who were lucky enough to have it. He also informs us about its darker side (excuse the pun) such as lamp posts used as impromptu gallows for hanging aristocrats during the French revolution. You may need to sign up to view the article.

Julie Allen

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16 Mar