What do you do when your city repossess over 1,000 streetlights in your underserved neighborhood, literally putting the lights out on you? Build your own. Only better, and greener. Bring in, that is, community-owned solar power.
That’s what Jackson Koeppel, co-founder and Executive Director of the membership-based solar power nonprofit Soulardarity, thinks is the answer for his adopted hometown of Highland Park, MI, just outside Detroit. Soulardarity has already installed six solar street lamps up in the community, and has just finished fundraising for the next project on the docket: a “smart” solar street light, with wifi, LED signage, and a built-in security system. It’s slated to go up right outside Parker Village, which is a super cool new tech hub/community space/urban farm space being developed in an abandoned school in Highland Park. There’s even going to be an aquaponics center, for raising fish, as well as education and work opportunities for those who want to learn trades within the urban farming field. Oh, and a sweet farmers’ market.
“The solar street lights we work with are off-grid,” explains Koeppel. “So they have solar panels and a battery, and a light. They get power during the day and store it in the batteries, which run the light at night. This one at Parker Village is going to have an LED street sign, that’s going to say ‘Welcome to Parker Village.’”
The Parker Village smart light’s wifi signal, Koeppel says, will be a huge boon for the neighborhood, which experiences what’s sometimes called a “digital divide.” “In Highland Park we have a lot of elder folks who are less in the know with internet,” Koeppel explains, “and a lot of economic inequality. Access to the internet will be transformative on a lot of levels.”
As a symbol, what will this smart street light mean, for the neighborhood and for Parker Village? “I think this light we’re doing with Parker Village is a symbol of the deeper potential of sustainable energy and sustainable community-led development,” says Koeppel. “It’s a small version of what we want to see happen with the whole city. It’s one small piece of energy and information democracy actually being made real and concrete, and it could really light the way for that becoming the norm for Highland Park and for Detroit and for all cities that have been left in the dark, or left behind.”
[Juan Shannon standing at the entry to Parker Village, where the smart light will be installed.]
This smart street light comes at the perfect time for both Soulardarity and for Parker Village, whose founder, Juan Shannon, is bringing the project into phase one of development. “Juan was one of the people who volunteered to serve on Soulardarity’s founding board,” says Koeppel. “For a long time, he and I have just been in dialogue about our shared goals of building a sustainable community really developed by the people living there. We’d been talking about a collaboration, and it just became the right time.”
If the idea of community-owned and developed solar power street lighting is one that makes your ears perk up, then Koeppel and his team want to hear from you. They’re eager to share anything and everything they’ve learned, and to hear from other communities around the country. “There’s probably pieces of what we’re doing that can be taken and replicated and improved upon in other communities,” says Koeppel. “We’re really excited to build with and support other communities, and to learn about the work that they’re doing. So please reach out to us!”
So there you have it. Don’t be a stranger! You can reach out to Koeppel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.
Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Have a great idea, but feel like you need a blueprint to get you started? Or a recipe to follow? We’ve got you covered. Check out some of our very best recipes for change, here.