It's dark in the mornings when Lanise Hunter heads to classes at Minneapolis' Patrick Henry High School. Dark, and scary too, when she returns home after basketball practice at night.
"It's pretty uncomfortable. Sometimes you'll be walking and there are dark shadows, and you don't know who is there," said the 12th-grader of walking to and from the bus stop. "You always have to be on guard."
A proposal by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey for $9 million in lighting upgrades to improve public safety has prompted a community discussion, with Lanise and others hoping for brighter streets. Frey's plan would address a backlog in repairs, upgrade existing lights and add new lamp posts.
The city also aims to use more LED lights, which the mayor said are higher quality and more sustainable.
But not everyone is enthusiastic about the idea. Night-sky advocates worry that removing the shadows may not only obscure the stars but also contribute to public health issues and climate change.
"We just want to make sure that when the city puts in that lighting that they're making smart and good decisions on the nature and location," said Todd Burlet, president of Starry Skies North, the Minnesota chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association. "Brighter is not better."
As city officials explore where and how to shine more light on Minneapolis streets, Burlet said he hopes his group will be part of the conversation. Things like shielding fixtures to direct light downward and using a softer "yellow" light instead of glaring blue LEDs can do much to mitigate light pollution, he said.
LaTrisha Vetaw, who represents the Fourth Ward on Minneapolis' North Side, wants LED — the brighter the streets at night the better, she said.
"I understand their concern. But I understand the concerns of my constituents," Vetaw said. "In my ward, I'm just trying to get LED. My ward is asking for brightness. We have some places where we have no light poles at all."
Paul Bogard, who wrote "The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light," said there are certainly places in Minneapolis where lights need to be improved and replaced.
"But we're already using more light than we need," he said. "And we're not only losing the night sky, but there are other issues as well."
Both Bogard and Burlet said artificial light at all hours of the night has numerous costs and concerns. Light pollution is connected to sleep disorders, increased carbon emissions and even possible links to cancer, they said. As much as 35% of the energy used to generate all that night light is wasted, Burlet said, at an estimated cost of $3 billion a year in the U.S.
Yet, Bogard said, there is no research that suggests more bright light actually makes a difference in public safety.
"It makes people feel safer, but it doesn't actually do anything for safety," he said.
Vetaw disagrees. Fourth Ward residents approached her almost immediately after her swearing-in to ask for better lighting, she said. And she believes Frey's plan will deter crime. About three weeks ago, a shootout was captured on camera, Vetaw said. The suspects could not be seen well in the dark alley.
Lighting is the second-best way to improve public safety, Vetaw said. The first is adding more beat cops. "Because the [police] numbers are down, that's not an option for us. I saw lighting as a basic need that the city should be providing anyway."
Sheila Scott was one of the residents who approached Vetaw nearly a year ago. She loves the small-town feel of her Lind-Bohanon neighborhood, but there are also several dark and secluded areas. More light would give "a sense of security. The ability to walk to my neighbor's house without being in fear."
A recent pilot project using LED lights on a few area blocks "does make it much brighter," Scott said. "I personally think it looks better."
Burlet said compromise is possible. Lighting projects in Flagstaff and Tucson, Ariz., and Houston show lighting can be improved and installed smarter, he said.
He hopes Minneapolis explores a wider range of options.
"We love and support the idea of good lighting that lets us do all the important things we do in society," Burlet said. "As long as we make sure the light we are using is the right kind of light at the right time."