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. s kel

    Detroit an example of a dying city.

    October 19, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Joel2208

    As I spent much of my childhood in Detroit, I noticed how very artistically the street light poles were designed as well as the street lights themselves. Just like the design of the automobile, these works of art will give way to the more modern and very tasteless designs of today! When "progress" moves forward, art takes a step backward or so it seems!

    October 19, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |

      That's funny, Joel. I too am from Detroit and noticed the very same thing about Detroit's elaborate street lamps and their fancy designs. They just don't design anything the way the used to anymore. Now to change the subject, I just wish that these bird-brained idiots here who can't post anything intelligent here would just quit bombaring this website with their crap. This gets old and how!!!

      October 20, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  3. chillipepper

    Thats what happens to a city run by liberal ideals and programs. America as a whole is heading for the same thing. Like the people from Occupy Wall street ran the country.

    October 19, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Portland Tony

      I'm pretty sure you have the wrong city. Detroit was a city off industrial giants. Lots of manufacturing. Nothing liberal. Then as with everything, the city got old and rather than fix it...industry marched on...
      Los Angeles and San Francisco and NYC are liberal.

      October 19, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sheila

      I agree with chillipepper.

      October 20, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  4. RUFFNUTT (kcmo resident and smoker of fine purple kush)

    light fer whites, dark for darks...

    October 19, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  5. RUFFNUTT (kcmo resident and smoker of fine purple kush)

    where is robocop when you need him????

    October 19, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Portland Tony

    INFRASTRUCTURE MELTDOWN! The city's maintenance planning was saving bucks when other cities were transitioning to newer lighting. Maybe they can get some replacement equipment from retired workers on eBay?

    October 19, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mad Ole Lady

    Detroit rock city sounds more like Bedrock.

    October 19, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Anomic Office Drone

    It looks like New Orleans and Detroit are in a race to vanish. Will Detroit destroy itself before New Orleans is washed away for good? Place your bets.

    October 19, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
  9. banasy©

    There are people who will blame liberals for the autumn leaves falling off the trees.
    It's ridiculous.

    Unfortunately, many cities such as Detroit are going into decline; the reasons stated above are a few of them.
    I look at Gary, Indiana, and I think of it's glorious heyday; Hammond was the same.
    Gary's downtown is a blight; all of those magnificent architectural wonders just sitting empty and falling to pieces, covered with graffiti.

    October 19, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. bobcat2u

    I was born and raised in Detroit. It was at one time a power house. But as with all dynasties, it outgrew itself and self destructed. People bagan to get get layed off, because the product was no longer selling as it once did, and the once vibrant economy began to implode. The once proud city fell to corrupt forces such as the mayor and law enforcement and forced many people away. As more people left, the layoffs among the city workers increased, because since there were fewer people in the city, their sevices were no longer needed. This continued on into the Detroit you see today. And in answer to Anomic Office Drone, my bet is on Detroit.

    October 19, 2011 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
  11. chrissy

    Dont it sound to all of you like this city NEEDS another bridge to canada?? Really? Thats what the state would rather do with the $285 million they recently found in their vault, rather than keep ppl safe...Freaking amazing. Worse the $s are tax $s!

    October 19, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jimmy Hoffa

    Today Detroit, tomorrow Michigan. Union power!

    October 19, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. chrissy

    And im sorry to disagree with anything you say ever bobcat, but, police, fire dept, emts and other city workers are being laid off not because they arent needed, but because loss in revenue, due the fact they are not recieving propety taxes.

    October 19, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
  14. raven

    Ive only been there 3 times but last time I was, I commented that it was beginning to look like a big scab. That was 4 years ago .

    October 19, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
  15. raven

    Hi chrissy , how you doin ?

    October 19, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
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