A dimmer Detroit: Mayor prepares to switch off half of his city's streetlights in attempt to save money

The parades of broken streetlights in Detroit – darkened by blown bulbs or by thieves who have made off with the wiring – have long been a symbol of the once-great city's long decline. But as the home of Motown and the Mustang is forced to downsize, its leaders have a solution: eliminate almost half of them for good.

Mayor David Bing is hoping, with the permission of Michigan's state authorities, to create a new lighting authority with a mandate to ensure a 100 per cent functioning record for only 46,000 lights, nearly 50 per cent fewer than the roughly 88,000 streetlights in place now, of which about four in 10 are broken.

Mr Bing hopes to contract out the maintenance, which, he believes, would save the city about $10m (£6.4m) a year. Money saving is his biggest challenge as the city struggles with a $265m budget deficit as well as $12m in long-term debt.

Earlier this year, a nearly bankrupt Detroit was forced against its will to submit to partial oversight of its financial management by the state. But this is not just about budgets and bulbs. Mr Bing will soon release a long-term blueprint for downsizing his city, which has seen its population fall from two million people in 1950 to only 713,000 today.

Elected in 2010, Mr Bing has made clear that the city can no longer afford to service large swaths consisting mostly of derelict homes or lonely lots where houses have been razed. About 20 neighbourhoods, each covering a single square mile, are only 10 to 20 per cent occupied.

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