New Lighting Brings Brighter Days To Some Detroiters

May 12, 2014

Along Detroit’s Eight Mile road inside one of the city’s pilot project areas for new street lighting a man washes vehicles lining the Auto Smart America car lot.

Owner Edward Haroon says he’s spent the past decade fighting thieves who break into the lot – he says catalytic converters are especially prized prey.

Haroon looks overhead and gestures towards what he calls an ally in his struggle against theft – a brand new street light.

“Is that LED – that lights? I’m gonna change mine also on LED you know. Because that’s saving energy," Haroon says. "And I’m gonna leave it on, you know, all night ... the lights. I’m gonna have to. That way gonna keep my business safe you know. I don’t want them keep breaking in. And the cameras don’t see.”

Further down the street, at the busy intersection of Eight Mile and Gratiot Avenue, King Roberson stands near a strip mall.

He, too, notices a new street light – and is un-impressed.

“I don’t think I miss the lights being off around here though," Roberson says. "I think in other areas like Seven Mile, Van Dyke. You know that’s what they call a red zone – the hot zone - where cops mainly target. That’s one reason why it’s called a red zone – no lights. We need ‘em man. It ain’t gonna stop crime. But it’ll deter guys that use the dark.”

In a quiet neighborhood blocks away, but still within the boundaries of the pilot lighting project, Robert Smith leans against the wall of his sister’s home.

They’ve lived here 15 years and Smith appreciates the new lamp post in front of his home.

But he says it simply is not enough.

“It’s a brighter light, you can see. So it’s better. But that’s just here in front of our home," Smith says. "Okay at night like if we leave out the neighborhood, ride down Gratiot to Six Mile, its dark. And they fix the lights going all the way down. They're up but, they’re not on.”

Smith calls for his neighbor, Ken Maxey.

He’s visiting the home his parents have lived in for about three decades.

And even though it’s only a few houses away from Smith, Maxey notes the street lights there do not work – and he says he really wants them to.

“Yeah I need ‘em," says Maxey. "I mean we all got parents and my mother need ‘em!”

City officials say they when it comes to street lights the low-hanging fruit are the lamps that have overhead wires.

Street lights with underground wiring take a far lengthier time to replace.

But Maxey wonders just how long his parents will have to wait for street lighting.

“Well they been on when we first moved over here…but then that one got shot out – that one right there got shot out," Maxey says. "And I guess ever since it been pitch dark over here.”

Maxey says that makes everyone outside of the pool of light surrounding Smith’s house – including his parents – a target.

“’Cause the young, I call ‘em young jitterbugs. And when they grab you it’s dark," Maxey says. "I mean, they grab you in the daytime but it’s worser at night. It’s bad enough in the daytime; it’s more in the dark. ‘Cause it too dark over here. You may not see me ‘til I done grabbed your arm. That ain’t good.”

Roughly a mile away but, again, still inside the pilot project boundaries, a group of those jitterbugs lounge around a bus stop.

They’re teenagers, such as this 17-year-old who gives his name only as “Cash.”

He says cash – and jobs – are what most of the Detroit teenagers he knows are desperately searching for – and he says the new street lights he sees overhead are not going to change that.

“Yeah I been seeing some come on like around 8:30 (at night)," says Cash. "It ain’t gonna really matter ‘cause people are gonna do what they gonna do regardless with the lights on or lights off. ‘Cause in Detroit, you know, you need money to survive. You don’t got no money in Detroit you just like you ain’t nothing. You basically nothing.”

But for some Detroiters, the new street lighting is a beacon of hope.

Inside a Detroit taxi, driver Isiaq Atanda smiles as he recalls one of his regular riders – a woman he says would not even venture outside of her un-lit door at night, let alone flag down a cab.

But he says a mere notice pasted on a lamp post seemed to cause a complete metamorphosis in the woman.

“There’s no street lights on that block," said Atanda. "She said she has been writing the Mayor and all that for so long. But when I pick her up a few weeks ago she said she had saw the sign that they are gonna put a street light on this block. She was very excited. She said that’s what she’s been looking for, for so long.”

Atanda says he and his fellow cab drivers await the time when the city will move beyond pilot projects and fully light the red zones and other darkened areas that often hide danger in Detroit.

City officials say they hope to have all Detroit neighborhoods re-lit…by the end of 2015.

WDET’s news team took to the streets to talk to hundreds of Detroiters about their neighborhoods – asking what they wanted for their communities – and what needs to change. Learn more about The Detroit Agenda here.