HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. (AP) -- As the sun dips below the rooftops each evening, parts of this Detroit enclave turn to pitch black, the only illumination coming from a few streetlights at the end of the block or from glowing yellow yard globes.
It wasn't always this way. But when the debt-ridden community could no longer afford its monthly electric bill, elected officials not only turned off 1,000 streetlights. They had them ripped out -- bulbs, poles and all. Now nightfall cloaks most neighborhoods in inky darkness.
"How can you darken any city?" asked Victoria Dowdell, standing in the halo of a light in her front yard. "I think that was a disgrace. She said the decision endangers everyone, especially people who have to walk around at night or catch the bus.
Highland Park's decision is one of the nation's most extreme austerity measures, even among the scores of communities that can no longer afford to provide basic services.
Other towns have postponed roadwork, cut back on trash collection and closed libraries, for example. But to people left in the dark night after night, removing streetlights seems more drastic. And unlike many other cutbacks that can easily be reversed, this one appears to be permanent.
The city is $58 million in debt and has many more people than jobs, plus dozens of burned-out or vacant houses and buildings. With fewer than 12,000 residents, its population has dwindled to half the level from 20 years ago.
Faced with a $4 million electric bill that required $60,000 monthly payments, Mayor Hubert Yopp asked the City Council to consider reducing lighting. Council members reluctantly approved it, even in an election year.
"We knew it was going to hurt," Councilman Christopher Woodard said. "We're all hurting."
In late August, contractors from DTE Energy Co. began rolling through the streets, taking out two-thirds of the light poles.
"It is a winning proposition, but that doesn't make it a winner with the citizens who find themselves in the dark," Woodard added. "We had to watch our backs when we got out of our cars before. Now we have to watch them even more closely."
Unless the government gets an unexpected infusion of cash or sees an uptick in its dying tax base, many parts of Highland Park will remain beneath a shroud every night.
"We are extremely concerned with public safety," said Trevor Lauer, vice president of marketing and renewables for the Detroit-based utility. "We recognize that street lighting is something that contributes to public safety."
The leader of a nonprofit group that works to reduce energy costs for low-income families said he's not heard of any other communities becoming so desperate to save money that they turned off streetlights. It might be a sign of things to come.
"If it works in Highland Park, I could not imagine other cities not looking at that as one option," said David Fox, executive director of the National Low Income Energy Consortium in Alexandria, Va.
Ford....moved his primary manufacturing operations to River Rouge, southwest of Detroit, in search of room to expand. Highland Park survived that loss.
"It's pretty ghetto," Cassandra Cabil said from her front yard. Voices drift in the darkness from down the street, but the speakers can't be seen.
The 31-year-old short-order cook works odd hours and sometimes makes it home late at night. She watched recently as crews removed the streetlight and pole from in front of her rented home.
"It's really dark unless people have their lights on," she said. "There's a lot of vandalism going on, people breaking into these houses."