Interactive Urban Lighting Recommended for NEA

09 May, 2016

Interactive Urban Lighting Recommended for NEA

Arts-based Community Development Investment for San Leandro

UC Berkeley’s Center for New Media one of 64 National Endowment for the Arts Our Town projects selected nationwide

Berkeley, CA-- National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Jane Chu announced 64 awards totaling $4.3 million supporting projects across the nation through the NEA’s Our Town program. UC Berkeley’s Center for New Media is one of the recommended organizations for an award of $50,000 to support the design, public deployment, and evaluation of interactive urban lighting in San Leandro, CA, a city of 100,000 in the San Francisco East Bay. The Our Town grant program supports creative placemaking projects that help to transform communities into lively, beautiful, and resilient places with the arts at their core. The NEA received 240 applications for Our Town this year and will make awards ranging from $25,000 to $100,000.

“For six years, Our Town has made a difference for people and the places where they live, work, and play,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Projects such as the one led by Greg Niemeyer at the Berkeley Center for New Media help residents engage the arts to spark vitality in their communities.”

Niemeyer notes that "public spaces are the mirror of our communal wellness. Public spaces that are safe, well-maintained and populated with residents having a pretty good time reflect a community that is welcoming. Interactive lights help to extend the welcoming experience into the night, and at the same time, they give residents valuable data about pedestrian circulations. Like this, we can appreciate public spaces emotionally, and we can show how a welcoming environment benefits safety, well-being and business with clear numbers."

With the support of the NEA, the Berkeley Center for New Media will install interactive urban lighting fixtures in San Leandro, connecting mass transit hubs and downtown areas through an engaging and safe walking experience. The programmable, motion-triggered LEDs are controlled by a central computer and cast spotlights after dark. The sidewalk brightens just before pedestrians approach and illuminate ten feet of the path ahead, creating the effect of walking on a path of shimmering light. The installation also collects non-identifiable motion data about how many people passed, in which direction, at what speed, and at what time. This flow data is a valuable resource for both the city and the residents to prioritize traffic, air quality and wellness budgets, and to assess the impact of urban improvement initiatives. The data will craft a community portrait of daily, weekly and seasonal circulation patterns. In collaboration with city engineers, the Berkeley Center for New Media will aggregate flow data with traffic apps, mass transit, signal timing and exceptional events to optimize individual walking experiences for city residents in a public API. Residents will be able use online tools to create their own lighting schemes, leveraging the installation as a platform to build social capital and STEM learning at the same time. The project will be scalable to any city in which lives are lost and wellness impacted due to unsafe passages for the most vital yet vulnerable element in urban life: the walking person.

The Interactive Urban Lighting project is led by Greg Niemeyer and Pablo Paredes, with support from Debbie Acosta at the City of San Leandro. The project developed from a course led by Greg Niemeyer and Ron Rael, funded by UC Berkeley's Global Urban Humanities program.

For a complete list of projects recommended for Our Town grant support, please visit the NEA web site at The NEA’s online resource, Exploring Our Town, features case studies of more than 70 Our Town projects along with lessons learned and other resources.

To join the Twitter conversation about this announcement, please use #NEAOurTown16.