20% of Detroit in the dark, paper says
Many of Detroit's light poles are antiquated, making quick fixes nearly impossible because of the costs, city officials say.
October 19th, 2011
06:03 PM ET

20% of Detroit in the dark, paper says

About 20% of Detroit is without working street lights, and in some areas up to 50%, the Detroit News reports.

A combination of problems, including an aging infrastructure, a shrinking city budget and criminal activity - both real and perceived - have made public lighting a problem, officials say.

“I know you heard that 50% of the city is in the dark. I wouldn’t say that high, but it is a great number,” City Councilman James Tate told CNN Wednesday. “And I don’t care what side (of town) you’re talking about - east, west, more affluent - you see lights out everywhere."

Strapped for cash like most cities, Detroit officials are trying novel - and controversial - ways to fix the longstanding issue:  The Detroit Works Project proposed by Major David Bing would shift the city’s resources to the more vibrant neighborhoods, prioritizing working lights, water systems and trash pickup to areas that are heavily invested. On the other hand, blighted areas – huge swaths of the city  - would be divested of resources in a bid to encourage residents to move out of those parts of the city.

“What it does is try to encourage density in certain areas of the city,” Tate said, “because in these areas that have pretty much no one on the block now the challenge is if you have one person who lives there, you’ve got to provide the services, all of them, garbage collection, water, lighting,” he said.

Another plan would have the lighting department privatized.

In any case, city leaders are angry. This past summer, several leading clergy members took Wall Street to task over contributing to blight by letting foreclosed properties fall into disrepair.

"They kick people out of these properties and now they're abandoned, windows kicked out, pipes stolen," the Rev. Charles Williams II of Historic King Solomon Baptist Church said at the time. "This is a city-wide epidemic. We want to call Chase into action to put money back into these houses and put people back into these houses."

The city has been struggling to reinvent itself for years, a feat made all the more difficult in the face of low confidence in city officials, a shrinking tax base and a crippling recession.

Census numbers show the city has lost more than 250,000 residents from 2000 to last year - its lowest population in a century. Along the way there have been major lapses by the city's Public Lighting Department. CNN affiliate WDIV last month reported that a city street light outage lasted more than two months.

"After dark it's scary. There's no lighting," Aledra Shannon said, according to WDIV. ""I mean, three or four months, you know, I just didn't think that was normal, even for the city of Detroit," she was quoted as saying.

And it’s not just on the east side.

“If you look at Outer Drive, (the lights are) all out both on the east side and west side of the city, and that’s a major thoroughfare,” Tate said.

Metal thieves have long been the bane of police departments, but in Detroit they have managed to darken whole city blocks by ravishing light poles for iron and other metals.

“We have folks that are taking out some of the coils at the base of the lights,” Tate said. “They are looking for some type of metallic material, but it’s of very little value, according to public lighting officials, and it takes out the whole light.”

Also keeping much of the city in the dark is an antiquated lighting system that makes quick-fixes nearly impossible because of the costs. “They don’t even make the part anymore,” Tate said of the city's transformers. “So we have to now install an entire different light right now, an entire system just to fix a light that goes out.”

And then there's the perception of crime, which has dogged the city for decades. Without proper lighting, whole areas, even those with robust commerce, become danger zones.

"We’re trying to get people to move to the midtown and downtown areas which are very, very successful and yet lights are out in those areas as well,” Tate said. “So it is literally a public safety issue, because if you can’t see the individual committing the crime, they are more likely to continue to commit those crimes,” he said.

But city officials contend that as bad as the situation seems, there is some, well, light, at the end of the tunnel.

"It doesn't make me happy when I go into a neighborhood at night," Chris Brown, the  city official over the Public Lighting department, told the News. "We've got an obligation to get it done. In the next couple of years we will see a strong improvement of the lighting of those more dense areas, and that's where we're focused on, and that's what we've got to get done," he was quoted as saying.

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Filed under: Michigan • U.S.
soundoff (125 Responses)
  1. banasy©

    @gung hoe:
    Hey, they're all over da place, I'll do what I can though. I don'rt lnow if they're even on, anymore.

    October 20, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
  2. banasy©

    Oooh, my spelling is atrocious! I'm going beddy-bye. Night, all.

    October 20, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
  3. gung hoe

    @ banasy on a more serious note ya i know they steal metals all over but taking it off the side of a house or stealing a air conditioner is a whole different game than to take the copper off a substation wouldnt get me to do that

    October 20, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. banasy©

    Gung hoe:
    I agree that it would take some very big cojones to steal copper from a substation; more than that, It'd be nuts.
    I wouldn't steal, anyhow, but then I've never had to, to survive.
    Knock wood.

    October 20, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Philip

    You lie banasy . You stole my heart!

    October 21, 2011 at 12:31 am | Report abuse |
  6. Don

    Street lights.... A national issue? Damn. Use some cheaper bulbs! Make inmates or local communities to replace them!

    No more famous Motown? Why, instead of crying about it, ya'll would look into each other and help the town instead of crying "i pay taxes? ??????

    October 21, 2011 at 12:55 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jeanette

    What country are you from, Don?

    October 21, 2011 at 1:13 am | Report abuse |
  8. banasy©

    You are no more Philip than I am Winnie-the-Pooh.

    October 21, 2011 at 1:18 am | Report abuse |
  9. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    Good morning banasy, chrissy, gung hoe, raven, fernace, the President, BtBC, and everybody I forgot–it's early. I'm already exhausted again. Skipping gym two days now. Overworked, terrible tensions at work, but all productive and progressive. Times are scary everywhere.
    Yesterday I didn't stop going from c. 11:00 AM until after 9:00 PM except to cram a sandwich down my throat, and there were no snails in it at all. I fought lots of battles yesterday.
    @ gung hoe:
    Thanks for the tip.
    At one point yesterday, an Important business associate said to me, "but this is important!"
    I said, "OK–I'll just cancel my appointments and just answer the phone for the rest of the day."
    He said, "I'll talk to you later," and I couldn't get him back on the phone.
    I'm already overscheduled. That's why you didn't hear from me again.
    I'll miss my workout again today. Can go again on Saturday.
    I threw a divo tantrum in a rehearsal yesterday.
    Tebaldi said it: "I gheevva too much."
    I hope that all my friends here understand me.

    October 21, 2011 at 5:35 am | Report abuse |
  10. The Prophet

    Gentlemen please no arguing, let’s talk about the misery spreading in the USA with the high cost of inflation and poor earnings growth to coup with it, people are struggling to make hands meet losing their jobs and their homes to the system. Occupy Wall Street is good but we need more, whet we need is a revolution a cue, to take back America from the Government which has become out of control, dictatorial, socialist, spending money on useless missions around the world. While here at home the Education system is collapsing, the unemployment is rising, infrastructure is decaying, and the healthcare is for the elite. Is this the America we have been professed to, is this the liberty and prosperity we have promised under the pledge to the flag of USA. The latest news is bring your cash to buy a piece of the American dream and earn a VISA to come to USA, are we fu…king kidding me is the government on crack who do you think has lots of money among the few in other countries other then drug dealers criminals and terrorists

    October 21, 2011 at 5:52 am | Report abuse |
  11. the prophet

    When was last time a community survey was done to assess the needs of children,families,jobs,or security in general in this country? Shame on you America for subordinating your citizens in a struggle to make hands meet.

    October 21, 2011 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  12. banasy©

    Slow down, darlin'.
    We want you around for many years to come...at least another few decades.

    October 21, 2011 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
  13. michelangelo

    we all know the real reasons detroit is in the fiscal trouble that it is it may not be[ politically correct] to state the facts because they come across as sounding racist but the facts are the no. of people on welfare,75% of the kids are raised without a father in the house, hence the crime rate since all they have to look up to are drug dealers pimps and crooked politicians the exodus from detroit has been going on for over 40 years when my family lived there the population was close 2 million the plain and simple fact is the blacks have wanted detroit for a long time now they got it and don,t know what to do with it every elected official in the city is black show me one other city the size of detroit that is anywhere near that, my dad a retired police officer from detroit said about twenty-five years ago detroit was going to become the first un-city as usual he was right!

    November 17, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
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