To say Highland Park has seen better days is an understatement.
Highland Park, a 2.98 square mile enclave city centered around Woodward Avenue is where Ford and Chrysler made thousands of cars, has been ravaged by the economic downturn and de-industrialization of America.
In 2011 to help solve a financial crisis where the city of Highland Park owed $4 million to DTE Energy it did not have, the bulk of streetlights – 1,400 poles, lights and and everything – were removed from the city.
Although there are still a few utility company provided lights on some corners, when you walk or ride your bike down the interior streets, you’ll see cement bases where the poles once stood.
It’s a story you might expect to hear on the BBC World News Service about some far away disadvantaged part of the world. But this is real, and this in the United States.
There are some bright spots of hope, and a few more literal ones appeared on Sunday thanks to solar powered lights presented on Sunday as part of the 100% campaign’s One100 Awards, which are designed to honor individuals across the country who are giving their 100% to promote clean energy.
One of the recipients, Cindy Mondy, a mother of six who lives next to a large abandoned building, says the light will make a big difference.
“I’ve been scared to go out there are night without light,” said Mondy. “People are coming in and out of that building all the time.”
Five individuals, a military veteran, a pastor, a mother, a business owner and a community organizer received solar lights thanks to the award.
“The loss of our streetlights plunged virtually every street in Highland Park into darkness. People were afraid to go out at night,” said Bridgett Townsend, board president of Soulardarity and lifelong Highland Parker. “But thanks to these amazing people, we are building a homegrown collective that is lighting up the night with solar-powered lights owned and controlled by the community, and independent of any utility.”
In addition to Detroit, awards were given to individuals in Buffalo, New York and San Bernardino, California. The 100% campaign is part of the national non-profit The Solutions Project founded by the actor Mark Ruffalo. It’s dedicated to making clean energy more accessible and affordable for everyone.
As part of their plan, they’re promoting the idea that Highland Park go off of the grid and go all solar with their streetlights.
A local non-profit that The Solutions Project is working with, Soulardarity, is looking to raise money to bring streetlights back to Highland Park and ditch DTE Energy, the utility company that serves the area.
“Organizations like Soulardarity are showing what’s possible when communities bring together bold innovation and deep caring,” said Sarah Shanley Hope, The Solutions Project’s executive director. “Clean energy is a breakthrough technology, but it’s when we combine it with human energy and political power that we really see lives improving.”
Soulardarity is made up of a coalition of block clubs, businesses, faith groups, individuals and non-profits in Highland Park.
Their proposal outlines what they believe to be a $3 million cost savings over 15 years versus a traditional streetlight program, and the poles would not only be owned by the community allowing for a wide variety of uses such as community wifi and cameras, but have less chance of going out in a storm.