Sunday, May 27, 2012

Detroit Cutting Lighting

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.

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.

“You have to identify those neighborhoods where you want to concentrate your population,” said Chris Brown, Detroit’s chief operating officer. “We’re not going to light distressed areas like we light other areas.”
This is essentially a continued example of the decline of the city, and the resulting ruralfication of Detroit. Frankly, it would probably just be easer if Detroit relinquished control over much of the land. Freed of the city's oversight, they might be able to more rapidly heal.

This op-ed from National Post describes the overall issues of decline:
The sad story of Detroit, which not all that long ago was one of America’s great cities, gets sadder still. Having lost 60% of its population since 1950, the one-time industrial giant is now a hollowed-out shell of its former self. According to the city’s estimates, over a quarter of its land area is abandoned — and Detroit is a geographically large city, so that’s a hell of a lot of uninhabited space. My last visit to the city a few years ago had me zipping around on various freeways that run through it, looking around in amazement as I passed from a clean, beautiful downtown through what looked like a bombed-out war zone before suddenly finding myself in attractive suburbs. It’s surreal.

As the people have fled, abandoning whole tracts of Detroit to nature and the criminal element, the city’s tax base has vapourized. Empty houses contribute no property taxes to city coffers, and depress land values among the homes still holding families in the area. A new plan to save the city, down to barely 700,000 residents (from a height of 2,000,000), will see large areas of Detroit effectively officially abandoned. And a part of that plan will be turning out the street lights.

As it is, many of the lights have gone out on their own. An estimated 40% of the street lights in Detroit are already broken, and the city doesn’t have the money to repair them even if there was any public demand for them to be in working order. Seventeen percent of the street lights date back to the 1920s and would cost hundreds of millions to repair or replace. Many others have long been stripped for their metal wiring. The city hopes to borrow enough money to replace and upgrade roughly half of the lights operating in the city, but will only do so in certain areas. It hopes this will encourage Detroit’s existing population to concentrate itself in a more economically viable, smaller core.

And this effective shuttering of whole swaths of the city won’t be done through flicking off the lights alone. The city also intends to halt road and sidewalk maintenance in “distressed” (read: abandoned) areas, concentrating available resources on those parts of the city deemed viable. State approval will be needed for some of the changes, but that’s unlikely to be a problem. What to do with Detroit is a problem for all of Michigan, which has half of its population living in or around Detroit, and frankly doesn’t have a whole lot of cash to throw at the dying city.
Here is a photo-essay from Time Magazine about the decline of Detroit.

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