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Cities’ Cost Cuttings Leave Residents in the Dark - Monica Davey via →

Newest sign of austerity: cutting back on street lights.

Monica Davey via

Cities around the nation, grappling with what is expected to be a fifth consecutive year of declining revenues and having exhausted the predictable budget trims, are increasingly considering something that would once have been untouchable: the lights.

Highland Park’s circumstances are extreme; with financial woes so deep and long term, it has extinguished all but 500 streetlights in a city accustomed to 1,600, utility company officials say. But similar efforts have played out in dozens of towns and cities, like Myrtle Creek, Ore., Clintonville, Wis., Brainerd, Minn., Santa Rosa, Calif., and Rockford, Ill.

What distinguishes these latest austerity measures is how noticeable they are to ordinary residents. If health care cuts, pay cuts, layoffs and furloughs — and even limits on enforcing building codes or maintaining parks — are most apparent to the people inside city halls, everyone notices when his streetlights go dark (and some cities, like Colorado Springs, where the issue boiled over, have already resumed some lighting when revenues allowed).

Turning off the lights has drawn grumpy crowds to city council meetings, stirred jealousy among neighborhoods and neighbors, and set off conversations about crime.

The cost savings seems to be the sole motivator of this trend, but what about the green dimension? Should we be burning all that oil to make the dark hours of night light? Even when people aren’t around? Is it sustainable? Probably not.

If cities were on a solar set-up — charging during the day to run lights at night — it would be a different story. But the majority of cities simply have been buying electricity from utilities, the majority of which is fueled by coal and natural gas: unsustainable sources.

Can’t people carry flashlights?

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