Last weekend Page \ Park spent a really enjoyable 36 hours in Leeds – part study trip and part exploration of a city which a few of us are getting to know quite well through our project work. We couldn’t have timed our expedition better – coinciding with the city’s Light Night Festival which runs over two consecutive evenings in early October.
Now in its 13th year this is clearly a festival which has grown from strength to strength and has an immediate and wide-ranging appeal.
There was a great atmosphere, with the city streets full of people of all ages and backgrounds enjoying the spectacle of seeing their city from a completely different perspective. The underpass that runs below the station that one normally quickens your pace through, was transformed into a multimedia sensory delight that inviting lingering; favourite landmark buildings were literally painted in light recalling the foundations of the city and their own history in a very accessible and enjoyable way; buildings opened up to house some really inventive installations which provided a perhaps more esoteric offering for those prepared to dig a little deeper. It was great that the festival included different scales of projects sited in all manner of locations – from commercial mammoths such as Trinity shopping centre to the calmness of Park Square.
The thing that I enjoyed was how events such as Light Night – and indeed the much-missed Radiance Festival in Glasgow – encourage people to look up and appreciate the city around them. It is a fact that most people simply do not look more that 9 degrees above the horizontal, and indeed I think with the popularity of the smart phone, many of us indeed wander around literally looking at our feet and that tyrannous small black mirror. For a few hours at least, festivals such as Light Night offer something new and exciting. Perhaps the next time a commuter scurries past the Queens Hotel enroute to catch a train they will glance up and remember the stunning projection on the façade. Importantly events such as these offer a communal experience that can be enjoyed in a safe environment, as we stand shoulder to shoulder with strangers gaping at the wonder and delight.
Events such as these exude a confidence and literally project a bright future for their host town or city. They offer a dynamic way to experience our urban environment, rather than the passive experience of standing watching a fire work display. They offer a truly democratic experience, and are precisely the sort of events our towns and cities should be used more frequently for.