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. Frank

    People of the United States of America and President Obama,
    Mr.President,hopefully Detroit is on the Slush Fund List so they can fix their Street Ligths.The muggers would be happy to see the lights back on.How come this was not fixed using the 1st 840 Billion Dollar stimulus plan?

    October 20, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      Sounds like a question for the city, not anyone else you mentioned.. I certainly don't know..

      October 20, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Sheila

    What a nightmare Detroit is. It's like a page out of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged." And for all the reasons she expresses in the novel. Soon, the entire country is going to be like Detroit if producers aren't allowed to innovate, taxes and regulations aren't relaxed, and socialist measures like Obamacare aren't repealed.

    October 20, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josephus

      Cool story bro

      October 20, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laurence


      October 20, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • D


      October 20, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  3. banasy©

    You didn't offend me in the least.
    I don't take offense easily.
    I just don't see how you can equate what's happening to Detroit with what happened in WWII.
    Otherwise, you're observations are on point.
    I don't quite see how Detroit is going to move these people to better area of the cities either, when it is obvious that they cannot afford it.
    Otherwise, of course they would be living there.
    I just do not see Detroit having any menacing plan when they want to cut costs in a dying city.
    It's a conundrum.

    October 20, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  4. banasy©

    And I never said Detroit was driving people out.
    Don't know where you got that.

    October 20, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. kitty

    oh puhleez, the problems in detroit have nothing to do with obama. and its not about relaxing taxes on innovation.
    its about a former mayor who ran this city like he was ghetto mafia...and its about the auto industry being greedy and shortsighted when they had it going on. corporations run this country like the mob! the federal government was not the problem in detroit – so tired of white people talking about their republican, tea party and libertarian goo which is dressed up corporate interest groups.
    if you dont like whats happening in your city or other cities, do something about it – promote your local businesses, get involved, protest something - but quit blaming it all on obama.

    and yeah i grew up in detroit and its so damned depressing to see what happened to a city that had such great history and promise.

    October 20, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. banasy©

    Ooops, that was meant for Observations.
    banasy© regrets the error.

    October 20, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  7. banasy©

    Don't you know everybody blames Obama for everything?
    If a pipe springs a leak in their house, of course they blame it on Obama.
    Tiring, isn't it?

    October 20, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • D

      I remember when Bush was the whipping boy. Humans really are pretty stupid, when you think about it.

      October 20, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      We're supposed to get our first good freeze tonight.. Damn obama..

      October 20, 2011 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
  8. unknown

    The very fact that more consumers will be in 1 area should keep it successful
    More consumers = more money for that area more tax revenue

    October 20, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  9. chrissy

    Oh no I'm from Michigan, Its dark and I cannot walk my lil tards at night.Oh my my God help us . If its dark nazis will drug us and we will get molested.I can only hope!

    October 20, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • George Patton

      You stupid Tea Partiers would have to take over this web page too and bombard it with your senseless crap!!! It just goes on and on and CNN evidently doesn't care!

      October 20, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Me

    I live in Detroit. This city has seen some hard luck but I must say a big portion of the problem has been bad officials getting elected and re-elected into office. They re-elected Kwame after he was caught using city money and was involved in numerous scandals.

    October 20, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. @Faux RUFFNUTT

    Everyone knows Ruffie's from KCMO. You should choose the people you troll a little more wisely. You just got your information from Joel himself. You, sir, are a doltus maximus. We have to put up with your trolling, so you get to put up with valid posts, not just what you want to see. What is it you want to see, anyway? Yoy HATE everything!

    October 20, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
  12. gung hoe

    They just arrested 3 in flint today a father and his son and the sons wife for steling copper and metal from sub stations over a 3 month period

    October 20, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. banasy©

    They steal copper and things of that nature *everywhere*.
    It's not just limited to Detroit.
    @gung hoe:

    October 20, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  14. gung hoe

    Lee buddy want to talk to you so does banasy

    October 20, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. gung hoe

    Banasy please try to get lee or skel or bobcat to 7am if you dont it will be obamas fault

    October 20, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
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