The geographies of the night have no secrets for geographer Luc Gwiazdzinski who has been studying them for years. Because understanding light (and darkness) is essential for making informed and sustainable decisions for our cities

Luc Gwiazdzinski is a geographer and teacher at the Ensa in Toulouse. His works focus mainly on night and urban times. He has published numerous articles and works on the subject, including La ville 24h / 24, La nuit dernière frontière de la ville, La nuit en questions, “Nuits d'Europe”. This year is the book Night studies with Will Straw and Marco Maggioli, Editions Elia.

In 2002 you spoke of ‘dayfication: day and night merging in cities…

We have indeed been observing an acceleration of the colonization of the night by activities and light. The night as a stop of activities represents only three hours of the life of the metropolis between 1:30 and 4:30. In a frenetic society that seems to be afraid of empty times, nights as well as Sundays are increasingly animated and subjected to the relentless pace of the economy, finance and media.

Which are the cities where the time of the night is assuming an increasing importance?

The more the cities are international, the more the activities tend towards the continuity of the offer and attendance. In terms of 24/7 we naturally think of cities like New York, Istanbul, Tel Aviv but also of territories dedicated to parties like Ibiza. But all cities are now interested – to varying degrees – by this phenomenon linked to changing lifestyles, territorial competition in the context of globalization and the use of new technologies. In detail, it is not the entire city that works in an uninterrupted cycle, but a part, limited to certain neighborhoods.

The model of a 24-hour non-stop society raises new questions in the policy of territorial development. How to make different needs coexist?

Territorial thinking and action must absolutely integrate the notion of time at different scales, that of rhythm and therefore take an interest in the 24 hours of life of an urban place, even in the resulting conflicts between individuals, activities and groups that do not they interact with you more at the same times. Choices are made in terms of specialization of the neighborhoods or dilution of activities. From the moment we let work and night services develop, a question of governance of the inhabited space and citizenship has also arisen. People forced to work at night must have access to services. We are talking about imagining a dimension of temporal continuity and ‘nocturnal citizenship’, a right to the city and to the night that we have developed in the Manifesto of the Night. It is one of the difficulties of managing the city at night. We must bring together the city that sleeps and the city that has fun. Beyond the answers in terms of soundproofing of buildings, we are witnessing the development of Chartes de la nuit (Night Cards), at the level of neighborhoods and cities that involve residents, public authorities and users with mutual commitments. The establishment of ‘night mayors’ or ‘night consultations’ goes in this direction on other scales. It allows to hypothesize solutions in terms of mediation (pierrots of the night in Paris, whisperers at the exit of the buildings), of postponement of schedules so that all the structures do not close at the same time or of ‘settling’ places with the opening of parks where meet the night owls.

In this context of consumption, how is the use of lighting devices optimized?

The multiplication of lighting devices has an environmental, economic and also cultural cost. Among the solutions there is undoubtedly the detection of users and the visualization of their passage in a place. But more generally, we must think about the timely use of lighting systems during the night. It is a question of saturation of attention in the public space and of privacy. It is also a light pollution problem. The proliferation of lighting devices no longer allows you to see the starry sky, the light of the stars... a free show that should be accessible to everyone. We can also imagine not lighting up anymore and equipping each other with individual devices, such as the pocket lamps of our childhood.

You collaborated with Jean Nouvel on the Greater Paris project that expands existing metro lines to ease downtown traffic and speed up connections to distant areas. How is it evolving?

Our participation in Jean Nouvel’s team consisted in highlighting the importance of the temporal approach of the city, immersion and the march towards the discovery of Greater Paris; and also in underlining the need to involve those who work in or visit Paris in this reflection, without keeping a focus only on the residents. For the rest, the underground excavators are at work and, interestingly, the artists are involved in the exploration of the network and the stations.

Instead, what is the challenge for a bright night future in the great Milan, in your opinion?

In Milan, as everywhere, the question of light must be integrated into a broader and more shared reflection on the city at night. With my friend and colleague artist Gianni Ravelli and the students of the Politecnico di Milano we crossed the city at night and came to elaborate some guidelines. The experience should be renewable and allow for the development of new strategies. For my part, I remember a gap between the strong international image of the city of fashion and the 'vintage' and relatively homogeneous côté of its lighting. But this is also the expression of an identity. In all cases, Milan where the problem of the city that lives 24 hours a day exists should start a wide public debate on its nights in terms of accessibility and hospitality. How to draw the Milanese nights together? It is a beautiful construction site!

Above, Torre Velasca in Blu installation by Ingo Maurer and Axel Schmid with CastagnaRavelli studio. Interni Human Spaces 2019.

In the opening and in the text, the urban lighting project de iGuzzini for Copenaghen, as part of the CPH 2025 Climate Plan (read here).