Posted on October 18, 2011

Detroit Struggles to Keep Lights On

Leonard N. Fleming, Detroit News, October 17, 2011

Like many swaths of the city, Keith Wicks’ historic Indian Village neighborhood has remained largely dark at night after vandals destroyed transformers in nearly every streetlight pole that powers them.

On a recent rainy day, Wicks, 64, a retired GM engineer who has lived in Detroit for decades, watched as city Public Lighting workers put new transformers at the top of the aging wooden poles. Just days later, those streetlights were out–again.


The growing lack of public lighting has become a troubling problem for cash-starved Detroit, where entire stretches of neighborhoods and thoroughfares–such as portions of the Southfield Freeway–are feeling the effects.

“This city…it’s dark without streetlights,” said Wicks, who lives on Iroquois. “You look down Iroquois at night now, it’s black. It’s very dangerous.”

The war to keep the lights on in Detroit is a serious one. Thieves, antiquated equipment and a lack of funding have made it impossible for city officials to catch up to the problem.

City officials estimate 15-20 percent of the 88,000 lights in the Motor City are not working, and they acknowledge that figure could be as high as 50 percent in some neighborhoods. Providing lighting to the city costs $10.7 million annually.

And often when they are fixed, they break down weeks and months later–or thieves steal the high-grade cable for its copper materials.