As explored by Architectural Review in the article “From pillar to lamp post: lighting city streets,” the history of street lighting is a fascinating journey intertwined with political turbulence and the rise of capitalism.

Street lighting, dating back to the Romans and Islamic cities, has played a crucial role in shaping urban landscapes. In the 15th century, London streets saw a form of illumination with a decree requiring lanterns outside houses. Parisians, however, resisted a similar mandate, viewing it as an unwelcome tax. Attempts across Europe to use lanterns between houses faced vandalism and opposition.

The connection between light and darkness in a city, influencing social dynamics and commerce, became apparent. Illuminating streets was seen as a bourgeois colonization of the dark, stirring both resentment and resistance. Lighting became closely tied to capital and commerce, with reports of candles in London shopfronts in the 1760s and artificial lighting extending shopping hours.

The 18th-century spectacle of London’s Oxford Street, known for its illuminated shops, highlights the intersection of commerce and lighting, even in proximity to impoverished areas.

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