Detroit, whose 139 square miles contain 60 percent fewer residents than in 1950, will try to nudge them into a smaller living space by eliminating almost half its streetlights.Half of Detroit’s Streetlights May Go Out as City Shrinks (Bloomberg)
As it is, 40 percent of the 88,000 streetlights are broken and the city, whose finances are to be overseen by an appointed board, can’t afford to fix them. Mayor Dave Bing’s plan would create an authority to borrow $160 million to upgrade and reduce the number of streetlights to 46,000. Maintenance would be contracted out, saving the city $10 million a year.
Other U.S. cities have gone partially dark to save money, among them Colorado Springs; Santa Rosa, California; and Rockford, Illinois. Detroit’s plan goes further: It would leave sparsely populated swaths unlit in a community of 713,000 that covers more area than Boston, Buffalo and San Francisco combined. Vacant property and parks account for 37 square miles (96 square kilometers), according to city planners.
There’s already experience snuffing out streetlights within Detroit’s borders. Highland Park, a 3-square-mile city encircled by its larger neighbor, removed 1,100 of 1,600 streetlights last year, after piling up a $4 million debt to DTE Energy. The move saves $45,000 a month, said Alejandro Bodipo-Memba, a spokesman for the company.
Only major streets and intersections remain lit in the city of 12,000, once home to Chrysler Group LLC’s namesake car manufacturer and Henry Ford’s first moving assembly line. Mayor DeAndre Windom, 45, said residents at first complained, though few do now. He’s considering grants and private funding to relight darkened streets
Colorado Springs pulled the plug on 9,000 of its 25,600 lights in 2010 to save $1.3 million, said David Krauth, a city traffic engineer. Some were relit as revenue improved, though 3,500 remain dark, saving about $500,000 a year, he said.
In Detroit, some streets have no working lights. Many appear dim or are blocked by trees. And some areas with mostly vacant lots are well-lit.
In southwest Detroit, businesses on West Vernor Highway, a main commercial thoroughfare, have sought $4 million in private grants to fix the situation themselves. The state would pay $2.5 million, said Kathy Wendler, president of the Southwest Detroit Business Association.
Jamahl Makled, 40, said he’s owned businesses in southwest Detroit for about two decades, most recently cell-phone stores. He said they’ve have been burglarized more than a dozen times.
“In the dark, criminals are comfortable,” Makled said. “It’s not good for the economy and the safety of the residents.”
North of there, on a stretch of West Grand Boulevard, the bases of light poles show where thieves tore out the wiring.
As many as 15,000 Detroit streetlights use 1920s technology, according to a 2010 study by McKinsey & Co. Upgrading the system would cost $140 million to $200 million, and $5 million more to operate than the $23 million now spent annually, the report said.
Besides streetlights, the Detroit lighting department provides electricity to 144 customers that include Detroit schools, Wayne State University and local government offices. Almost 22 percent of the city’s electric bills were unpaid, the McKinsey report said.
That’s just one reason Detroit is digging out of a $265 million deficit and saddled with more than $12 billion in long- term debt. To avoid a state takeover, Detroit agreed in April to have its finances overseen by a nine-member board appointed by the city and the state.
There is little doubt that Detroit is ground zero for the parts of America that are still suffering. The city that was once one of the wealthiest in America is a decrepit, often surreal landscape of urban decline. It was once one of the greatest cities in the world. The birthplace of the American car industry, it boasted factories that at one time produced cars shipped over the globe. Its downtown was studded with architectural gems, and by the 1950s it boasted the highest median income and highest rate of home ownership of any major American city. Culturally it gave birth to Motown Records, named in homage to Detroit's status as "Motor City".How Detroit, the Motor City, turned into a ghost town (The Guardian)
Decades of white flight, coupled with the collapse of its manufacturing base, especially in its world-famous auto industry, have brought the city to its knees. Half a century ago it was still dubbed the "arsenal of democracy" and boasted almost two million citizens, making it the fourth-largest in America. Now that number has shrunk to 900,000.
Its once proud suburbsnow contain row after row of burnt-out houses. Empty factories and apartment buildings haunt the landscape, stripped bare by scavengers. Now almost a third of Detroit – covering a swath of land the size of San Francisco – has been abandoned. Tall grasses, shrubs and urban farms have sprung up in what were once stalwart working-class suburbs. Even downtown, one ruined skyscraper sprouts a pair of trees growing from the rubble.
The city has a shocking jobless rate of 29%. The average house price in Detroit is only $7,500, with many homes available for only a few hundred dollars. Not that anyone is buying. At a recent auction of 9,000 confiscated city houses, only a fifth found buyers.
Dubbed 'Motor City', Detroit is the birthplace of the US car industry. Iconic auto companies like General Motors, Ford and Chrysler brought jobs and prosperity the Michigan city that was once America's fourth largest with nearly two million inhabitants. As those companies faced competition from auto manufacturers in Japan, Detroit endured a population exodus.
Detroit now boasts only about 700,000 residents, down 25% from 10 years ago. After an $80 billion (£51.5 billion) US government car industry bailout, Detroit is attempting to resurrect itself. But the abandoned homes and ballrooms, ruined factories and an empty, cavernous train station serve as daily reminders of the city's more affluent past.
For her book, Detroit: 138 Square Miles, photographer Julia Reyes Taubman spent seven years documenting what is left of Detroit. She argues its ruins are monuments to American innovation that must be preserved.
Detroit: the ruins left behind when city loses half its population (BBC Video)