Vancouver Skyline at Night

Exactly what makes a city "livable" and what can you do to help your own?

Annual surveys, such as those conducted by The Economist, Mercer and Monocle, look at a range of criteria from infrastructure to environment, culture to climate, to determine the most liveable cities in the world. Each year, the perennial front-runners - cities like Melbourne, Helsinki, Honolulu, and Vancouver (pictured above) eagerly await the results, while other vibrant yet perennially congested places such as Los Angeles and Houston seek ways to slice, dice and spin their lower livabilty metrics.

Obviously, building a new subway system or converting 400 acres of prime downtown real estate into public parkland is out of the question for most of us, but there is one low-cost, high-impact area in which anyone can enhance their surroundings: lighting.

A 2009 design guide by the City of Los Angeles' Urban Design Studio recommends that new and old urban developments "develop a system or family of lighting with layers that contribute to the night-time experience, including facade uplighting, sign and display window illumination, landscape, and streetscape lighting...of a character and scale that relates to the pedestrian and highlights special landscape features."

Urban lighting design

Any photographer will tell you that a beautiful picture begins with good light and clearly the same is true for cities. Done well, modern outdoor lighting can enhance a business or residence by adding depth and vitality to your surroundings.

Modern outdoor light

Matte Silver Outdoor LED Up and Down Wall Light

Classically inspired lighting fixtures can restore a sense of provenance to historic properties, exposing long-forgotten architectural details, and even evoking the contemporary interiors within.

Biscuit Lofts, downtown Los Angeles

Outdoor lighting and Mission Style Outdoor Light

Mission Hills Textured Black Outdoor Wall Light

Enhancing sidewalk appeal is one thing. However, by increasing pedestrian visibility and reducing crime, well-executed outdoor lighting is critical for the positive effect it has on the most important livability index of them all: safety.

Images: National Geographic, Design Intelligence, House Design Decorating, LA Condo Domain