Jyväskylä, Finland – The story of how the city is using light and events as a tool for branding

Due to its geographical location light in Finland is distributed more unevenly than in southern Europe or indeed elsewhere across the majority of the globe. Jyväskylä belongs to the LUCI network and as the world’s northernmost member city it has acquired a rather exotic reputation from a lighting point of view. LUCI (Lighting Urban Community International) is the association of cities of light around the world. Via LUCI and other means the City of Jyväskylä has turned light into a strong and positive brand for itself, one which is exploited across a wide spectrum ranging from municipal engineering to tourism, events, sport services and marketing of the city.

The strategic City of Light project has developed Jyväskylä’s urban illumination in accordance with a lighting culture ideology possessing both aesthetic and technical dimensions from 1996 onwards. The spearhead of development is user-oriented planning, in other words the impression given by the cityscape during the hours of darkness in the eyes of different user groups. This means that the end result must be the right amount of light in the right location and, still further, at the right time.

Credits: Juhana Konttinen

Credits: Juhana Konttinen

Jyväskylä has hosted the City of Light event each autumn since its inception back in 2003. Its purpose is to function as a means of communication and source of inspiration for real estate owners, property management companies, entrepreneurs, local citizens and visitors alike. The event showcases the permanent illuminated locations the city has built, both old and new examples since over 90 of these already exist. These permanent illuminated locations include bridges, parks, buildings and works of art.

Also occupying a central role are the experimental illuminated locations and lighting installations created for the event itself. By means of these light can be brought closer to people and opportunities fashioned for experiencing and seeing lighting as part of a harmonious environment. In addition, installations that employ special effects serve to generate considerably more spice than more conservative permanent illuminated locations can provide. Light artwork on display during the event is frequently combined with other elements such as performing arts, performances, music, parkour and even dance.

As part of the event a seminar is also arranged. This brings together lighting branch professionals in Jyväskylä to discuss urban illumination. In recent years the City of Light project has also organised numerous seminars focusing on urban illumination as well as networking events for light artists both in Finland and abroad.

In addition a large number of fascinating support events are staged for townspeople and visitors at which people can take on board new thinking concerning light and experience light’s compelling effects. The programme includes workshops, happenings involving physical recreation, photographic exhibitions, communal activities, guided walking tours as well as naturally environmental and light artwork. Participants in such events can even drop into a pop-up café, for instance, where blind people serve their customers coffee and the like in a totally dark space.

An event of this nature conjures up experiences and leaves an indelible mark in people’s minds. It generates opportunities and bridges for an area by means of clever combinations. It functions as an excellent tool for development and builder of positive images. For this reason the City of Jyväskylä has chosen it as part of its urban image, in other words, its brand.

Credits:  Juhana Konttinen

Credits: Juhana Konttinen

Many of these permanent illuminated locations are buildings, places or landmarks that characterise Jyväskylä. Thus in the space of just over ten years light has become permanently rooted in the darkness hours urban streetscape of this city of 136,000 inhabitants.

When Jyväskylä won the international city.people.light competition in 2009 the jury remarked that ”in Jyväskylä light is carried out for the population as a whole and is characterised by its human scale”. These words well describe Jyväskylä’s path to becoming a City of Light. Nowadays Jyväskylä is internationally well known for its lighting and this has brought the city a positive reputation and a great deal of recognition.

As a consequence of the opportunities brought by light Jyväskylä has become networked with over 70 different cities around the world. This interaction, founded on knowhow and cultural exchange, serves to reinforce the city’s own identity, and also market it at the same time as a city of education, physical recreation and events as well as a frontrunner in technology.

What is more, residents take a pride in their superbly illuminated city and express contentment with the space in which they live. This boosts citizens’ interaction and functions as a unifying force. This in turn gives rise to positive images which can be used to very good effect as themes for municipal marketing, say.

Light has an effect on people at the subconscious level and for this reason in urban design lighting is taken into account in a holistic manner – the environment, after all, is built with us people in mind. The sort of environment which is pleasant to live in and which one can be proud to show off.


IMG_1719Jani Ruotsalainen has coordinated the City of Light project for the City of Jyväskylä since 2004. His tasks include the production of City of Light events, communication and PR, partnerships and other development projects associated with City of Light. His employment history is defined by solid experience in the tourism business and development of the same in the role of entrepreneur, financial director and expert adviser in different organisations.


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