Streetlights have a profound impact on the vitality of a city. Good street lighting increases economic activity, reduces crime, and prevents auto accidents, and the streetlight network is one of the most large-scale and expensive components of a city’s public infrastructure.

That raises an important question: how should the city make decisions about how to replace and expand the streetlight network? And what criteria should be used to make these decisions? The lights use a significant amount of energy, so lights can be replaced with energy-efficient bulbs to reduce the city’s carbon footprint. The network can be expanded to bring more light to underserved neighborhoods. Light population can be taken into account. And decisions can be made to reduce the cost to city in the short and longterm.

All the data that the city needs to weigh these factors and make good decisions exist, but are currently stored in different places and with different formats. Because the data haven’t been brought together in one unified analytic platform, the city usually allows the energy company to make replacements to the streetlights on their own schedule. With the help of a team of volunteer tech and data specialists, however, that will change soon.

Code for Charlottesville is a local chapter of a national nonprofit called Code for America, and the mission of Code for Charlottesville is to bring volunteers with tech, data, design, and research skills together to work on problems for local governments and regional nonprofits. Our latest project tackles the problem of wrangling Charlottesville’s various streetlight data to build a tool that maps the streetlights and displays all the information the city would need to know about each individual streetlight in an intuitive application. This app will include calculators to help the city find the replacement schedules and expansion strategies to minimize the network’s energy use and cost, increase the coverage and quality of the light, and generate greater social equity through expanding in neighborhoods that lack sufficient lighting.

Code for Charlottesville launched in September 2019, and since March 2020 has been meeting entirely over Zoom. We have taken on projects with the Legal Aid Justice Center, the Charlottesville Fire Department, and the Charlottesville Office of Human Rights. We always need new volunteers, and our volunteers come from Charlottesville’s tech industry, local government, and from UVA.  We are a great place for people from these different communities to meet and work together on worthwhile community service projects. Also, volunteers do not necessarily need to know how to code to help! We also need help with design, policy research, writing, and social media.

If you are interested in volunteering, if you have a project idea for us, or if you are interested in partnering with us or sponsoring us, visit us at or email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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