When Rosario Iannacone steps outside her father’s home after dark, she shudders with the memory of her close call with a stranger. If Esperanza Gonzalez must go out at night, she leaves her purse at home and runs to her destination. Ana Lilia Gutierrez won’t let her kids roam the neighborhood at night after a car slow-rolled her near an inky neighborhood park.

The three City Heights women spoke with photojournalist Sam Hodgson last month about how San Diego’s lack of streetlights – Councilwoman Marti Emerald has estimated the city needs $30 million worth of them – has colored their movements and how they feel about their neighborhood.

It’s a conversation students at Monroe Clark Middle School have been having, too.

With the help of arts nonprofit The AjA Project, they took photos to express how the darkness impacts them. During certain times of the year, they walk to school before sunrise. They say lights are usually clustered on busy streets instead of where they live and play.

“My street only has one light on it, on Polk, that helps you see at least four houses but after that, it’s pitch dark.” – AjA student

Anita, 13
Anita, 13

“They have more lights next to the stores, I think, but not really where people live.” – AjA student

“Certain areas that people don’t care about [don’t have lights]. Like mostly near schools they don’t have them because they don’t really think that anything would happen there.” – AjA student

Kassandra, 13
Kassandra, 13

“In City Heights it’s dark and scary at night. If you add more lights people would feel more safe to walk at night.” – AjA student

The youth worked with the City Heights Town Council and mid-city police officers to scout out homes and trees where they could install solar-powered floodlights to light streets, alleys and canyons. The program, which began in November with a grant from Price Charities, is a workaround for the city’s expensive and lengthy process for installing traditional streetlights. Liam Dillon recently explained how the process works on NBC7 San Diego.

But their work could be augmented by the city soon. Mayor Bob Filner has budgeted $100,000 for streetlights in City Heights and southeastern San Diego.

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Megan Burks is a reporter for Speak City Heights, a media project of Voice of San Diego, KPBS, Media Arts Center and The AjA Project. You can contact her...

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