Home' ALGY : ALGY Edition 25 2018 Contents THE AUSTRALIAN LOCAL GOVERNMENT YEARBOOK EDITION 25 • 111
Long ago, the night air was associated with evil and danger,
and people rarely went out after dark. Since ancient
Roman times, city streets have been dangerous places
after dark. In the Middle Ages, linkboys with flaming torches
escorted people from place to place through the winding
streets of medieval towns. Similarly, night watchmen were
established in 13th-century London, and were an early example
of policing. They carried lanterns and looked out for risks such as
fire and crime after dark. Travellers were commonly required to
carry burning torches to see ahead, to be visible to authorities
and to identify themselves. There was often an assumption that
those not carrying torches were criminal and dangerous. The
implementation of public street lighting, therefore, helped to
make the evening and night-time more accessible.
The installation of fixed street lighting was initially the
responsibility of individual householders, and was privately
funded. In Paris, Louis XIV installed around 7000 street lamps as
part of an urban revitalisation project in the 1660s, controlled by
local police. All over Europe, the pattern of the urban day was
being extended by the development of shops, taverns, coffee
houses, theatres and other places of entertainment. These places
were open in the evening and extended their hours of business
into the night. Lighting of public streets, funded and managed
centrally by government or other large institutions, gradually
emerged around the early 18th century. During the 1820s,
increasing crime levels, and political and industrial disorder,
gave way to calls for reform, led by Sir Robert Peel. This led to
the demise of the night watchmen and their replacement by a
uniformed metropolitan police force around 1829.
In Australia in 1826, one of the pioneer Sydneysiders’ first
requests to Governor Ralph Darling was a plea for street lighting.
The Sydney Gazette suggested part of a watchman’s duty would
be maintaining street lamps to repress ‘those robberies which
now escape the vigilance of the police, principally, if not wholly,
through the darkness and gloom of the night’.
Street lighting now allows the many activities of
contemporary post-industrial cities to operate 24 hours a day.
Street lighting has supported these significant changes in
society’s routine activities, and enabled people to feel safer to
move between locations at night-time. Since the invention of
the motor car, a key function of street lighting was to facilitate
night-time driving and improve road safety at night.
Indeed, street lighting standards AS/NZS 1158 (Subsidiary
Roads and Associated Pedestrian Areas) apply in Australia and
New Zealand, and utilise recorded crime rates, pedestrian levels
and traffic flows to set initial lux levels. The minimum lux level
requirements for the three categories (low, moderate and high)
is 1, 2 and 5, while average lux levels are set at 3.5, 6 and 10 lux;
however, due to under-reporting of crime, these may not reflect
the real crime risk, and lighting levels may therefore be lower
than required. Significantly, it is not known what proportion of
street lights comply with these standards.
Research began to focus on crime and street lighting in the
1960s. This is a highly complex issue, and it is hard to assess the
effectiveness of street lighting as a crime-prevention strategy.
Most of this early research was not of good quality, and results
were largely inconclusive; however, in recent years, the case for
improved street lighting has been well established. A detailed
review of the research indicated crime reductions of around 21
Explanations for the reduced crime rate include increased
surveillance of streets, better facial recognition, and increased
community pride through enhancing the promotion of
informal social control. In summary, improved lighting has been
associated with reduced incidences of crime and increased
perceptions of safety.
Based on UK Government estimates, the financial costs
of the crimes reduced by street lighting improvements far
outweigh the financial costs of the street lighting improvements.
More recently, research indicates that improved street lighting
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