For decades, people in a southeast Albuquerque district have been asking the city to light their dark streets. One neighborhood group eventually starting solving the problem by installing streetlights on their own.
We stood just as the daylight fades under a bright, motion-activated, solar-powered streetlight. It’s on a pole outside the Sundowner apartments. Bernadette Hardy is a co-coordinator of the International District Healthy Communities Coalition.
The people behind the Light The District project use their own money to buy these lights and put them up. This isn’t just a cosmetic issue. Hardy says darkness along long stretches of busy streets has been a factor in crime, injuries and deaths in the International District. She witnessed one young boy get hit by cars on Louisiana about a year and a half ago. He died. "It was pitch black, and I understand they couldn’t see him. And he was just a little 8-year-old out in the darkness."
This part of Albuquerque is also home to some of the most dangerous intersections for pedestrians in the state. And people here do a lot of walking. Hardy lives here, and she’s been working on this a long time. She’s said she’s frustrated with the city. "They’ve never addressed any of our issues," she said. "They just keep forgetting about us."
Light The District team members drive around at night to assess where lights are needed. Then they knock on doors and ask for permission to install them. "So putting them on private property, we didn’t have to go through anybody, any city official, and we just did it ourselves," she said.
A lot of the existing street lights in the area don’t work, Hardy said. And it’s hard to tell who’s responsible for each one—sometimes it’s PNM, the city, the county ... The neighborhood volunteers also look for broken streetlights and then report them to the city. Their complaints over the years often went unanswered.
Bernadette’s brother, Greg Hardy, has helped put up all of the new lights these last five years. "Some places, it’s so dark, you can’t even see in front of you," he said. "So that’s how bad it is."
He says he’s done 24 so far. " I dig the holes, put up the polls, paint them, and set the concrete and install the lights," he said. And he kind of keeps an eye on them afterwards, too, to see which ones might need adjusting or fixing.
Karen Kathey had the very first light installed by Light The District in her yard. "Yeah, the city wasn’t doing anything about it," she said. "So the community decided on their own: What can we do? How can we go about solving the problem, since the city’s not listening?"
Her neighbors have told her about how useful it is to have even just a little more light on their street, she said.
Light The District is working with Mayor Tim Keller’s administration to get all the busted lights in the International District fixed at once. But regardless, these residents said that still won’t be enough streetlights to keep their neighborhoods lit and safe.