My friend David Schalliol took photos showing the ways Detroiters adapt (or don’t adapt) homes and businesses to a long-term lack of streetlights.
Just the other (sporadically lit) night, driving through the East Side, I was thinking about this project and hoping I’d get to see some images from it. I spent an evening driving around Detroit with David while he was shooting these, and I came to realize that creating a beautiful, clear image of a sharp light in a sea of dark is no easy feat. I am glad to get to see these.
Detroit is a city of hope and new starts, but this is also our reality. There are three streetlights on my current block, and it’s rare that all three of them are on simultaneously. My last neighborhood, Indian Village, is wired in such a way that if one streetlight is out, they are all out. Metal thieves go for the wires, and Indian Village keeps getting its lights turned off. The neighborhood is organized and has a lot of clout and wealth so they get the lights turned back on, but inevitably they’re out again. When I first briefly lived in Indian Village in April 2009, the streetlights were always on. As a night owl, that’s one of the reasons I moved there. But lately, they might be on and they might not.
It’s important to think about the missing public services of Detroit in the context that several of them are missing on a given block at any given time. It’s not just that your streetlights are out, but the pavement is also not maintained, which can make night biking dangerous–one of the actors at the theater where I’m involved said that when he bikes unlit streets at night he hits “bone-jarring potholes.” It’s not just that your streetlights are out, but that the bus only has a 66% chance of showing up on time, and if it’s summer the grass could easily be waist-high, and the police might come in an hour if they come at all. The streetlights are a safety issue and a transportation issue, and thus they are a keep-your-job, stay-in-your-house, go-to-school issue. Some parts of the city have really been lighting up with new businesses and residents lately, but other parts of the city are very literally left in the dark.