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A street lamp near a U building and and two people walking towards the lamp.

One of the new pedestrian street lights in front of the U's Bierman Field Athletic Building on 15th Ave. S.E.

Let there be light

U and neighborhood effort results in new pedestrian lighting by Twin Cities campus

By Pauline Oo

December 6, 2006

Spooky, dark, unsafe, scary...

Before September 2005, these adjectives regularly escaped the lips of Marcy-Holmes and Southeast Como residents when 15th Avenue S.E. crept into conversation. Today, faces beam as brightly as the new pedestrian lighting along that street--north of the University of Minnesota's East Bank and the Mississippi River--and the residents can't say enough about the added glow to their neighborhood.

"The lights are a vast improvement to what we've had," says Ardes Johnson, long-time resident and former chair of the Marcy-Holmes Livability Committee. "That street was just a black tunnel. I was worried for those of us who had to walk it at night and the cyclists."

Marcy-Holmes is a neighborhood of about 9,000 residents (it includes the Dinkytown business district), and approximately 85 percent of residences are renter occupied, mostly by University students. Southeast Como has a population of about 5700; with approximately 65 percent renter-occupied and 35 percent owner-occupied. The 27 brand-new acorn-style street lamps (one-third the height of standard street lighting) are staggered along 15th Ave. S.E. from 5th St. S.E. to Como Ave. S.E. The lighting is divided pretty evenly between the Marcy-Holmes and Southeast Como neighborhoods, with about 3 blocks of lamps in each neighborhood.

In 2001, the issue of safety and pedestrian-level lighting arrived on former city council member Paul Zerby's desk. But it didn't go anywhere, says Johnson, because the City Council had issued a moratorium on low-level lighting construction--some Prospect Park residents had sued the city for the cost of their neighborhood lights; others weren't thrilled about light pollution and a greater loss of the ability to view the night sky.

The University community stepped in, and the issue took on legs again in fall 2003. The Minnesota Student Association passed Project Lighthouse, an effort to improve the cost, safety, and conditions of student housing. University sorority students living in the neighborhood gave impassioned speeches about their safety concerns at a Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association meeting. University students interning with neighborhood associations went door-to-door educating property owners and getting them to sign a petition. The U agreed to pay for lights along a lengthy section of the avenue. A year later, Zerby called for a street lighting improvement meeting.


During the day, the acorn-style, low-level lamps add a rustic charm to the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood.

Last summer, a portion of 15th Ave. was closed for 23 weeks as part of a neighborhood revitalization plan (roads in neighborhood have not been renovated since their original construction in the late 1970s), and Zerby--with help from the petition signed by landlords and residents in support of an assessment for pedestrian lighting--succeeded in getting the city to install electrical lighting conduits as part of the road construction. The city council lifted the moratorium and approved a $212,000 street lighting improvement assessment last September. (Minneapolis requires majority consent from property owners before assessing for lighting projects. Assessments are based on property square footage.)

"This is an example of citizens and government working together," says Zerby. "It would never have happened without everybody doing what they did--the students, the University, the Southeast Como and Marcy Holmes neighborhoods, the Southeast Como Improvement Association, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, and many property owners who agreed to sign the petitions."

Kendre Turonie, coordinator for student and community relations at the University, is glad the project has come to a positive end. "The lights look great, and a lot of the students in the neighborhood are happy," she says. "I have worked on many projects, and a lot don't usually have tangible results. This one does."