Safety or surveillance? City starts multi-million dollar lighting project on South and West Sides


by N’dea Davis, Alyah Barnes, Allison Cho and Shantasia Lewis

Is there an impact on public safety and crime based on the quantity or quality of streetlights? We discovered that the Chicago Infrastructure Trust and Department of Transportation will spend $160 million dollars to install 250,000 LED streetlights. Dubbed “The Smart Lighting Project”, this project has been in effect since the beginning of this summer.  There’s been debate around whether or not street lights make civilians feel safer, calling into question the motivation for the project. However, our most important concern was why the city would start such a pricey project in Chicago neighborhoods that are typically on the bottom of the list for infrastructure updates.

In this story, Real Chi Youth reporters N’dea Davis, Alyah Barnes, Allison Cho and Shantasia Lewis, with contributions from City Bureau reporters Geoff Hing and Christian Sanchez, explored the Auburn Gresham and Hyde Park neighborhoods to uncover the relationship between crime, safety, and street lights. She interviewed Stephen, a Hyde Park resident, and actor/comedian, as well as Auburn Gresham residents Cortez and E. Black, who are employed at Amazon and Pauly’s Restaurant respectively. She also sat down with Adam Schwartz, a senior staff attorney at Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization that works to protect civil liberties as technology advances.

Stephen, Cortez, and E. Black expressed their thoughts on the importance of streetlights in their neighborhoods. Adam voiced his concerns about the potential for surveillance in minority communities using cameras attached to the new lights. All believe that there is more to this lighting project than what they are being told. Moving forward, we’ll have to wait until the project’s completion to understand its full impact on Chicago neighborhoods.