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.

Post by:
Filed under: Michigan • U.S.
soundoff (125 Responses)
  1. gung hoe

    I mean donna and chrissy and me find it easier to communicate than playing tag on the boards if youd like to join

    October 20, 2011 at 8:01 am | Report abuse |
  2. gung hoe

    @jif hey I didnt want to scare you off.Thought we had a good conversation going and just wanted to make it easier and extend our circle of phone friends.There was no harm meant

    October 20, 2011 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
  3. Andrew

    Ha ha. the Dem. Party and Michelle Obama's voter-base / people stealing the street lights again, for "scrap metal value".

    Better for the Gub'ment to put these junkies on Social Security Disability, run up our budget deficits like crazy... oh wait a second, our government already does that.

    October 20, 2011 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Ourkie

      Go away idiotRepublican troll.

      October 20, 2011 at 9:43 am | Report abuse |
  4. Captain Obvious

    Detroit is a crime ridden cesspool?

    NO WAY! Robocop was right!

    October 20, 2011 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
  5. The Dude

    The most crime ridden and ranked #1 dangerous city in the US, is run by unions and democrats anyone suprised?

    October 20, 2011 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
  6. Urban Prairie Explorer

    The article is incorrect. Detroit is 90% dark.

    October 20, 2011 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
  7. Observations

    I met a woman several years ago from Hungry. She was a teenager during WWII. She stated this is what the Germans did to her town. They shut off all the services and burned the food stores so that no one would want to stay in the area. When people tired to move or leave for another area, they shot them. Whole families were found dead along side the roads and sometimes piled in the middle of the streets. Do you suppose Detroit has a plan in place?

    October 20, 2011 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
  8. banasy©


    No, because the state of our country today is in no way comparable to what Germany and Hitler was trying to do during WWII.

    October 20, 2011 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
  9. chemicalbank

    They aren't even waiting for the last one to leave.

    October 20, 2011 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  10. banasy©

    Not to mention it is highly doubtful that the US would let a foreign country come in and decimate America, one city at a time.

    October 20, 2011 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Observations

      Not what I meant banasy. The city of Detroit is driving people out? What the article said was they are trying to stop services so that people will leave those areas and they can concentrate on the better parts of the city.

      "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.

      What I want to know is...if you move these same people to those "very very successful" parts of town, how do you keep it successful? Sounds to me like those in charge are just creating a new field of opportunity.

      October 20, 2011 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  11. banasy©

    Good Morning, Bimbo.

    October 20, 2011 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  12. fernace

    When major American cities go this much in decline then it's part of a larger & more insidious problem, namely the stagnant & stalled economy! When there are few jobs, major industry gone, the whole country financially compromised, this is what happens! Detroit will rebuild itself when the economy gets better (whenever that will be), Houston did in the 80s, but in the meantime people are literally scraping by!!

    October 20, 2011 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Bimbo the Birthday Clown

      I remember a 60 minutes story about 20 years ago that was unsettling. Most of the major cities were developed during the 20th century, with construction and materials that were available at the time. Infrastructure was never meant to be permanent. Water, sewage, electrical, bridges, etc. have in many cases outlived their estimated lifespan. If any particular city does not have the budget for major upgrades, as seems to be the case with a lot of cities now, they tend to completely fall apart.

      October 20, 2011 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
  13. Bimbo the Birthday Clown

    Hi banasy. How goes it today? Looks like most of the traffic is on the Gadhafi story today, not surprising. Hard to get a word in edgewise.

    October 20, 2011 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  14. banasy©

    It goes just ducky thank you.
    It takes forever for my phone to load up on the thread, so I've been avoiding it.
    I agree with your post about infrastructure, btw.

    I can agree that they are trying to perhaps re-invent Detroit, but your comparison to Nazi WWII's tactics isn't the best analogy.

    “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.

    They are trying to cut costs by getting that one person to move. They are not cutting the services to that one person.
    You might have something if they were, but they're not.
    Different thing altogether.

    October 20, 2011 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Observations

      My analogy is valid. I am sorry you took offense to it. What do you do with that one, or in reality the many, who cannot afford to move to those "very very successful" parts of the city so that this lower income part may be abandoned by the city? Or do they pick and choose who is moved and who is not? With the homeless rate of population rising, how long will this part of the city remain non-populated? I live in a city where homeless families (271 people to date) have starting squatting in an abandoned school. No electricity, no facilities, just a roof. Four miles from this school is a tent city behind a grocery store with over 300. Most are veterans. You can re-invent anything, anytime, except reality. These people are deemed undesirable because they don't have a home and often resort to theft to feed themselves or their families. So...my question stands. Does Detroit have a plan? What do you do with abandoned people?

      October 20, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  15. thedude

    So the idea is to encourage people to move from Blighted areas to the better sections of town. That will help property values. First of all there isnt enough space in Palmer Park and Rosedale to hold everyon else. secondly the few people with some money that havent left certainly will, when the rest of the city relocates to those areas.

    October 20, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Observations

      Exactly! How long will "very very successful" areas remain when undesirables move in? We still have a HUGE population of Katrina evacuees. Again an undesirable population. No one had a plan except to remove them from New Orleans and plop them here in hotel rooms. They are still here. They have "blighted" my community. The street lights do not work here either as the wire and metal thieves have cleaned the place out. Fires are an every night occur, so far this year 2 shootings per night, robbery, assaults, home invasions leaving elderly people in nightmare conditions. My nice middle income community is "blighted" because those in authority built a special place for these evacuees. The place looks like it was built 20 years ago.Chances are good you can't count 3 running cars in the whole place but plenty of junk sitting around. So......do you think those in my city will move these people to a more affluent place of residence? Or maybe yours? Who foots the bill? What is the plan?

      October 20, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7