In April 2021, Dwight Hall and the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale co-sponsored the New Haven Civic Innovation Prize, awarding $7,000 of the $10,500 prize total to Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) for their Project Lighten Up program. The New Haven Civic Innovation Prize sponsors the best student- or community-led venture or project focused on benefiting the City of New Haven. Project Lighten Up has aimed to do just that by responding to Newhallville community concerns about neighborhood lighting. According to NHS Director of Community Building & Organizing, Stephen Cremin-Endes, installing the solar-powered motion-detector lights is only the fifth step in NHS’s years-long project to increase Newhallville nighttime visibility and to encourage feelings of safety and community.
NHS initiated Project Lighten Up in 2012 when Pastors Donald Morris and Alan Kendrix surveyed the Newhallville neighborhood and determined that many community members wanted better lighting. After drawing up a map of all the nonfunctioning lights, the two pastors petitioned City Hall for funding at a time when New Haven’s City Engineering Department was transitioning to LED lights. Newhallville’s Lilac Street received some of the first of what would become over 2,000 LED lights in the area.
As NHS began forming a relationship with the community, the organization initiated the second phase of Project Lighten Up: “Pastor Kendrix did some safety audits with the neighborhood and determined that people wanted porch lights,” Cremin-Endes said. “Then we ended up putting up lamp posts. Neighbors wanted some. We cobbled up funds and materials. We worked with EMERGE”—a New Haven nonprofit that helps recently paroled individuals find employment—”to help put these lights on for the neighbors.” Installing the lamp posts was the third step for Project Lighten Up. The fourth was having a good relationship with the city to cut back trees and keep them trimmed.
The Newhallville neighborhood, with a street lined with functioning lampposts
The Civic Innovation Prize sponsors Project Lighten Up’s current efforts to install motion-detector lights outside of homes. After describing Project Lighten Up’s multi-faceted efforts, Cremin-Endes noted, “There are still some dark spots in between houses and the backyards. We put up motion-detector lights. The batteries don’t last as long, which means there’s an additional cost for fixed-income people. So, we decided to do motion-detector solar lights,” which increase the up-front cost but ensure that residents do not have to regularly change the light batteries. “The motion detector aspect is nice because we don’t want to light things up like a shopping mall,” Cremin-Endes added. “Sometimes the lights are way too strong. We want to make sure that there’s just the right amount of lighting in the right spots.” As Cremin-Endes noted, the right amount of light is better both for people and for pollinators.
Installing the motion-detector lights also has additional safety benefits. Project Lighten Up is part of the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design approach, which identifies crime as a product of the environment and recognizes that environmental design plays a central role in promoting safety. According to Lieutenant Manmeet Colon, district manager for Newhallville, “Light adds a sense of safety and security for the folks in the community…Overall, [lighting] makes an impact on quality of life issues and improves it.”
Every three years, NHS conducts a resident Confidence in the Community survey, which includes questions about perceptions of safety. Since Project Lighten Up began in 2012, “We’ve noticed that there’s an increase in resident’s perception of safety,” Cremin-Endes said. “One of my favorite questions is, ‘do you feel safe in your home, on your porch, and in your neighborhood walking at night?’ Those numbers are improving in every category. Project Lighten Up is one of many factors.”
Perhaps the largest impact of Project Lighten Up is the effect that is has on the people in the neighborhood. In the Newhallville community, Cremin-Endes said, “If people feel safer, then they’re more likely to go outside and walk and talk to their neighbor and spend time on their porch. That I think is a good thing.” Since receiving the award at the end of April, Project Lighten Up has identified twenty houses with low- or fixed-income homeowners to receive the lights. Eight houses have already had lights professionally installed. In the next six weeks, Project Lighten Up aims to install lights on forty houses.
Dwight Hall is proud to support NHS and Project Lighten Up to continue to promote safety and civic participation in the neighboring Newhallville community. “We believe that innovation comes from every part of our city, so the New Haven Civic Innovation Prize is perfectly suited for broader participation beyond Yale-based ventures,” said Johnny Scafidi ’01, Dwight Hall’s director of community outreach and engagement. The prize illustrates Dwight Hall’s and NHS’s shared commitment to social change and our collective dedication to bringing about meaningful and lasting change in greater New Haven communities.