GameChanger: Chris Broughton

We catch up with the city's "Light Guy."
—Photography by Mike Morgan

Canton resident Chris Broughton had a bright idea after he learned about the correlation between an uptick in crime and darkened city streets. Why not string cafe lights between rowhouses, providing both beauty and protection? The Canton Community Association’s Public Safety Task Force was excited, but with no funds, the idea just simmered. Tired of waiting, Broughton spent two months getting consent from all 24 of his neighbors, paid for the materials, and did all the labor himself. It was an instant hit.

How did the idea grow beyond your block?
I wrote a material list and posted it on the neighborhood Facebook pages: Here’s how you do it, here is a list of all the materials you need, if you have any questions ask me. Several people asked if they could pay me to do the labor, but I had a full-time job doing home renovations. But in July 2020, I was between projects, and I said, “Sure, I’ll do it.” It snowballed from there.

How many blocks have you “lit” since then?
I’ve done five dozen Canton blocks—so about 60 of the 300 blocks in my neighborhood. And between the other neighborhoods—Locust Point, Federal Hill, near Hopkins, the Baltimore Highlands, Govans—I’ve done 100 to 125 more blocks. For installs, I can usually do 20 houses in seven or eight hours. If I have a helper, it’s less time than that. I’m training three guys from three different city districts so they can do their own installs. I can’t do the entire city. Plus, I want to keep the money in the district where it comes from.

Speaking of, what’s the cost to illuminate a block?
The more houses, the cheaper it gets per house. My goal is $100 per house, including supplies and labor. For big installs, it’s way below that. Usually when someone says no, it’s monetary, but a lot of times the other people on the block are happy to cover their share. There’s also a lot of grant money for this in different neighborhoods. Plus, the city offers a small one, and so does BGE.

I assume aside from getting paid—this is part of your full-time job—there’s also an altruistic purpose?
I want to make the neighborhood prettier and safer to walk around at night. It’s an unintended consequence, but a lot of people are meeting their neighbors in the process of organizing this. They often end up meeting their whole block…and then a lot of them have a stoop-lighting party when it’s done. It creates more of a sense of community, too, and it shows people who are moving into the city that this block or this group of people care enough to put in the effort. I’ve had a lot of customers say, “Oh, my friend from the county or my friend from another state loved seeing the lights when they were down here, and it changed their impression of the city.”