Repurposed Bus Stops Improve Public Mental Health

In the middle of winter, the city of Umeå, Sweden, gets less than 60 minutes of sun a day. “If,” a resident notes, “the sun shines at all.” A series of repurposed bus stops provide a resourceful solution.

Lack of natural daylight can have a serious impact on an individual’s, and a city’s, mental health. Umeå’s energy company, Umeå Energi, used their resources to improve the mental health of the city by installing anti-SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) lights in 30 of the city’s bus stops. With the new lights in place, instead of merely sheltering commuters, the bus stops serve the additional function of being public mood-boosting units.

“We wanted to show we care about the people living here in Umeå at this dark time of the year,” said Umeå Energi CEO Göran Ernstson. “People get depressed if they don’t see light.”

Umeå Energi’s Ljusterapi (Light Therapy) initiative invites commuters to spend a few minutes facing the therapeutic lights while waiting for the bus to soak up the benefits of natural light they miss during the region’s dark winter months.

The Ljusterapi bus stops are a model of resourceful reprogramming in several ways. The initiative requires no new infrastructure or equipment, as it simply swaps the bulbs normally used to back-light advertisements with natural light frequency bulbs. In addition, the energy used to power the bulbs comes from renewable sources such as solar, wind, and hydropower.

Bus Stop in Umeå, Sweden, transformed into a “light therapy” booth to boost public mental health during dark winter months.
Bus Stop in Umeå, Sweden, transformed into a “light therapy” booth to boost public mental health during dark winter months.

“Everything is a part of our commitment to take responsibility for both our customers’ everyday lives but also for the environment at large”, says Umeå Energi’s Anna Norrgård.

After the lights were installed, bus use in the city doubled. The public benefit gained from exposure to the lights initiated additional conversations about their potential, inspiring Umeå Energi to install similar bulbs in the local high school to boost the mental health, energy and focus of students during class.

“Umeå residents both own us and are our customers,” said Ernstson. “We believe we all need to be re-energized when it gets dark. People need to get their vitamin D somehow!”

This project and 43 others from 17 countries are featured in the Reprogramming the City Book!

By replacing advertising lights with anti-SAD light therapy bulbs in 30 city bus stops, Umeå Energi transformed functional urban infrastructure into mental health boosting units.

Photos Credit: Ola Bergengren

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