Universiteit Leiden

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Sara Brandellero: ‘We need to protect the city from an excess of light’

On 25 September, lights throughout Leiden will be turned off for the Seeing Stars event. What makes the urban night so special? We asked university lecturer Sara Brandellero, who researches cities, night and migration.

‘Cities are quite different after dark,’ Branderello states. ‘Since you’re less able to see your environment, all your other senses are enhanced: you get a stronger sense of smell, touch and feel. That creates a different experience of feeling of the city around us. Richer even, because we feel more.’ The physical experience isn’t the only change; social interaction between people is also different when it’s dark. ‘After dark, people feel more comfortable letting go. They’re more open to meeting other people, to encounter different cultures. It creates a sense of more inclusiveness on many levels.’

This inclusive attitude of night owls raises the question of how migrants experience night. Brandellero leads the NITE project (Night Spaces: migration, culture and integration in Europe, funded by HERA), on which five universities are collaborating to investigate how nightlife shapes and is shaped by the experience of migrants. Brandellero herself, together with LUCAS colleagues Kamila Krakowska Rodrigues, Seger Kersbergen, Francianne dos Santos Velho and Frans-Willem Korsten,  focuses on a Dutch-Brazilian theatre company in Amsterdam and the Cape Verdean community in Rotterdam.

Integration and preserving the old

On the one hand, the night does indeed appear to create opportunities for intercultural exchanges. Brandellero: ‘The night creates opportunities for people to meet their future partners, marry Dutch people and thus create a sense of identity and connection with the Netherlands.’

On the other hand, the night also turns out to be conducive precisely for maintaining contact with the native community. Cabo Verdeans, for instance, used music in the middle of the last century to reflect on events in their homeland. ‘Many of these people were sailors or worked at the port. The music-making happened on the side, after work. A lot of this music was connected to decolonial struggles. By playing, they maintained the Cabo Verdean culture.’

Even now, music creates bonds with the community and with its history. ‘When Cabo Verdean music’s played somewhere, younger generations get in touch with older ones. During the night, they often rediscover moments of family and community history.’

Too unique to lose

According to Brandellero, it’s therefore important to take care of the night and the dark. ‘The urban night’s become important for economic revenue. City councils have understood the night has a lot of potential for the economy, city development and tourism, but we should preserve the urban space without overwhelming it with artificial light. This timespace of darkness is too unique to lose while moving increasingly to a 24-hour society.’

On the evening of Sunday 25 September 2022, the lights in a large part of Leiden will be ‘switched off’ between 10:00 pm and 11:30 pm. Those who look up can marvel and see the stars without light pollution – and wonder what light does to us humans. Scientific questions in a year when Leiden is the European City of Science. More information on Seeing Stars.

Meer informatie about NITE is available on Nightspace.net.

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