Power to the people: Nonprofit installs 10 solar-powered streetlights in Highland Park

“These streetlights will put power where it belongs: in the hands of the people,” says Shimekia Nichols, the new executive director for Soulardarity. (Photo credit: Lunar Haus)It was 2011 when DTE Energy repossessed more than 1,000 streetlights from the streets of Highland Park, leaving much of the city, and primarily its side streets, in the dark. A result of the city owing some $4 million to the gas and electric utility company, the move to repossess its streetlights garnered national attention.

Enter the Highland Park-based nonprofit Soulardarity. Forming in 2012, the nonprofit made it its mission to “re-light the night” in Highland Park. It’s doing so with solar powered-streetlights that are also WiFi-enabled, providing free public internet access while lighting city streets all at once.

The nonprofit recently celebrated the installation of ten more solar-powered smart streetlights in Highland Park. That means that the organization has so far installed 18 solar-powered streetlights covering ten blocks.

Soulardarity is currently in the midst of a $10 million fundraising effort to replace each of the 1,000-plus streetlights first taken in 2011.

Organizers view the solar-powered streetlights as a means of democratizing energy.

“These streetlights will put power where it belongs: in the hands of the people,” says Shimekia Nichols, the new executive director for Soulardarity.

“Throughout history, the U.S. political system and corporations have not only failed communities of color, but have actively harmed them. DTE Energy’s actions are one example. We’re working toward a different kind of future for ourselves and our neighbors.”

Five of the streetlights were installed at the sustainable eco-village Avalon Village on Tuesday, June 22. Another five were installed at the community resource center Parker Village later that week.

“I’m thrilled to have these streetlights at Parker Village. They are an example of how our community is coming together to create the future we want,” says Parker Village founder Juan Shannon. “Our city was the birthplace of the Model T. Now, we can be a model for building vibrant high-tech, clean-energy communities where everyone thrives.”

Avalon Village founder Shamayim “Shu” Harris, affectionately known as Mama Shu, says that her whole block is now lit — or re-lit, as it goes.

“Our goal is to feel safe and secure and add beauty to our city. Adding these streetlights will do that,” she says.

“We deserve this.”

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MJ Galbraith is Model D's development news editor. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.
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