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Urban Planning

  • Redesigning the Nights of Seoul

  • Urban Planning SMG 3217

    [Freeing Seoul from Light Pollution]

    • Seoul becomes first city in Korea to designate “Lighting Control Zones,” through the application of a gradient lighting control system (Grades 1 to 4)
    • Ensuring sufficient lighting in areas where it is needed, while restricting excess lighting in other areas
    • Increasing the number of illuminated bridges along the Hangang River from 12 to 18 to improve the nightscape
    • Creating diverse new cultural spaces and zones full of youth and character

    Turn the lights off, let the stars shine

    August 22 every year is Energy Day in Seoul. By nightfall on this day, all residents of Seoul turn their lights off, plunging the entire city into absolute darkness for 35 minutes. Over 630,000 public and commercial buildings participate in the Energy Day campaign. By turning their lights off and letting the stars shine, the citizens of Seoul enjoy a brief spell of freedom from light pollution.

    Light can be a source of pollution

    Today’s rapid modernization and industrialization is increasingly exposing people to an expanding range of pollution. Wastewater from factories, greenhouse gas emissions and noise from cars, and the rapidly growing volume and variety of trash are all well-documented sources of pollution. Today, however, light pollution is becoming a serious problem as well. With commercial facilities open day and night and neon signs kept on, flickering throughout the night, the nights of Seoul have become as bright as the daytime.
    Recognizing this, Korea’s National Assembly has officially acknowledged light pollution as a serious phenomenon in need of regulatory intervention. In the Act on the Prevention of Light Pollution by Artificial Lighting, enacted in January 2013, Korean legislators defined light pollution as a phenomenon in which excess or improper use of lights interfere with the health and happiness of citizens.

    Negative effects of light pollution Light pollution by area


    The impact of light pollution is far more serious than many realize. It negatively affects the health of human beings, animals, and plants alike. When exposed to light pollution over long periods of time, humans experience insomnia, depression, stress, and disruptions in their circadian rhythms, putting them at increased risk for cancer and other severe diseases. The release of melatonin, which occurs only in dark environments, is crucial to getting a good night’s sleep. Light pollution disrupts this process, breaking people’s circadian rhythms and rendering them vulnerable to a number of stress-related diseases and conditions. There is a growing body of literature worldwide on the correlation between light pollution and the incidences of breast cancer, prostate cancer, obesity, and cognitive disorders. Light pollution causes plants to fail to bear grains and fruit, changes the blooming times of flowers, and delays the emergence of fall foliage. Light pollution can also cut plants’ lives short.

    Aiming to achieve zero light pollution

    Lighting Control Zones (LCZs, Grades 1 to 4) Map of LCZs


    In an effort to reduce light pollution and prevent sleep disorders, ecological disruptions, and other such harmful side effects, Seoul designated Lighting Control Zones (LCZs) throughout the city in July 30, 2015. The city’s LCZ policy limits the intensity of artificial outdoor lights at night according to four grades. Open public hearings and town hall meetings were held before the policy was developed so as to identify areas in need of sufficient lighting at night (for security reasons) and others where lights could be controlled or turned off.

    The advanced nature of Seoul’s lighting control efforts is evident in the security lights the city has recently installed throughout residential neighborhoods. The city replaced the 100-watt high-pressure sodium lamps that were used in most neighborhoods with 50-watt cut-off LED lights. LED lights not only improve visibility, but also minimize light pollution. Seoul’s goal of eliminating light pollution has thus increased the luminosity of public lighting in critical areas while halving the amount of energy required, thereby contributing to the city’s One Less Nuclear Plant policy as well.

    A park with improved lighting control A park without improved lighting control


    Adding to the Beauty of Seoul’s Nightscape through Lighting Control

    In addition to reducing light pollution, Seoul has also set out to discover and enhance the beauty of its famous nightscape spots. Major nightscape spots in Seoul have thus been equipped with better lighting so as to promote tourism and offer greater convenience to citizens.

    In 2015, over 11 million international tourists visited Seoul and the surrounding cities of Gyeonggi-do. Seoul continues to make various changes and improvements with the goal of attracting 20 million tourists by 2018. In an effort to develop places from which people can enjoy views of Seoul’s nightscapes and design tourist programs accordingly, Seoul has designated a total of 10 Best Nightscape Spots and organized a public idea contest for the related programs.

    Seoul’s “Storytelling” Bridges


    The Hangang River is one such popular place where people go to get the best views of Seoul’s nightscapes. A river all visitors must pass over when entering downtown Seoul from Incheon International Airport, the Hangang is crossed by a total of 29 bridges. Of these, 27 feature lighting systems, and 12 are equipped with special nightscape lighting. Seoul has installed nightscape lighting on six other bridges as well, and has begun advertising these 18 bridges as major night attractions of Seoul.

    Nightscape lighting has also been installed along Seoul City Wall. A prototypical example of the fortress architecture of the Joseon Dynasty and a structure that makes the best use of the surrounding mountains and other topographical features, the fortress wall will be added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2017. Seoul installed nightscape lighting all along the wall with the goal of transforming it into a major nightscape spot in the city, complete with a beautiful natural landscape and rich history.

    Special Tourism Zones of Light Pollution-Free Seoul

    Yeouido Park with improved lighting Nightscape of Cheonggye Special Tourist Zone


    Having made these innovative efforts, Seoul has been chosen to host the Annual General Meeting of Lighting Urban Community International (LUCI) from November 2 to 6, 2016.

    LUCI promotes exchange and cooperation in terms of lighting production, design, and urban lighting technology among cities worldwide and organizes various forums, such as open conferences and seminars, for debates on the future directions and aims of urban lighting. The member cities of LUCI have formed networks with the aim of promoting innovative improvements in urban economies, environments, and designs through lighting. In 2013, Seoul submitted its Yeouido Park Waterfront Area Lighting Improvement Project to the Annual General Meeting of LUCI, competing with 25 other cities that are leaders in innovative lighting. As it did in 2008, Seoul won the International Urban Lighting Award, with the judges acknowledging the innovation and effectiveness of Seoul’s lighting project, which minimizes lighting pollution and reduces energy use by over 50 percent.

    At this year’s meeting, Seoul will fulfill its role as a representative city of Asia and adopt advanced lighting technologies from other countries. Through its participation in the meeting, Seoul hopes to promote its relaxing and beautiful lightscapes and highlight the progress of its ongoing urban lighting projects.

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