At 78° North and 15° East – 640 km north of mainland Norway, Longyearbyen is the northern-most permanently settled city in the world. The island of Svalbard and the city of Longyearbyen is a place of contrasts – polar nights/midnight sun, mountains/ sea, urban centres and untouched nature.
The local government and the board of tourism engaged Light Bureau as part of a team including Agraff, Prologue and COWI to develop a masterplan for Longyearbyen with ambitious goals and emphasis on tourism, ecology and developing a modern, forward-thinking city. Historically, Longyearbyen has been an important town for coal mining and fishing, but has gradually transitioned towards becoming a destination for scientists, researchers and eco-tourism as well as people that just want to live and work in a unique natural environment.
The contrasts and particular needs of the city drove Light Bureau to develop a hyper-local lighting masterplan for Longyearbyen – unconventional and tailor-made. Light pollution is a highly relevant issue in Svalbard as people live in and visit the area to experience nature. Scientists also depend on clear views of the night sky – even small amounts of light pollution can be a hindrance to the research stations located close to Longyearbyen. UNIS (the University Centre in Svalbard) provides an aurora forecast which predicts the probability of visible northern lights occurring over Svalbard one hour in advance of the event. To enable researchers, tourists and locals to get a good view of the natural phenomenon – the public lighting uses data from UNIS as controls input to reduce light levels during occurrences of the northern lights. A low level of light and a glow from the luminaires ensures that safety and wayfinding are maintained.
During the winter months, the streets in Longyearbyen are covered in snow. A white, snow-covered landscape reflects more light than asphalt does in other urban context and if lit to the same values as asphalt can become a source of light pollution. Illuminance levels are tuned to the reflectance of the ground cover which enables the public lighting to be reduced during the winter months when the ground is fully covered by snow. The roads maintain the same luminosity as required from streets covered in asphalt, but less light and energy is used to achieve it.
Developing a hyper-local lighting masterplan for Longyearbyen also means considering the purpose of lighting infrastructure during the summer months when the midnight sun is up and artificial lighting is not required. Light Bureau identified two major all year challenges that the existing infrastructure could solve – idling cars and access to information for tourists. Idling cars are a common sight in Longyearbyen to keep the engine and passenger compartment warm. The masterplan proposes columns with power outlets and timers for engine block heaters to avoid the need for idling cars. Engine block heaters are known to reduce carbon monoxide emissions by approximately 60% during a short 10-minute drive in a cold climate. Most journeys by car in Longyearbyen are less than 10 minutes and the impact of this strategy will be significant.
Longyearbyen is a foreign environment to most tourists visiting for the first time, the cold climate alone can discourage tourists from exploring the city and due to the dangers of polar bears, it is not allowed exit the city without a weapon or an armed guide. It is therefore important that tourists visiting the city has good access to information and are encouraged to use the restaurants, bars, museums and other cultural destinations within the city and that it is easy to find the sights, viewpoints and information about current events. The regularity of public lighting makes its infrastructure uniquely well suited for integrating WIFI transmitters. A citywide public WIFI network can easily be implemented and it can also be used within private dwellings and public buildings with little signal loss due to the common construction materials used in the city. More personalised information can be transmitted directly to visitors via Bluetooth beacons incorporated within select street lighting posts and signs that connect to a Visit Svalbard app. The information transmitted can be a historic/cultural guide or information about current nearby hospitality locations and events.
The lighting masterplan is the foundation for future projects in Longyearbyen and pushes the limits of what considerate urban lighting is within a sensitive natural context.