We’ve all seen sketchy vacant lots in cities and towns that serve as an unofficial garbage dump and litter box. I know my first thought is: How hard can it be for the government to make this area more aesthetically pleasing? But I always shunned my thoughts thinking that there are more serious and impertinent matters at hand that officials need to deal with.
That said, a recent study from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania might just prove that greening vacant lots is a worthy endeavor and investment to take on. According to the study, published in the journal Injury Prevention, greening vacant lots not only but make residents feel safer, but it also reduces crime!
The study used a randomized controlled trial design, as researchers used one vacant lot that served as the control and one vacant lot that was “greened” with help from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. The “greening” process involved removing debris, planting grass and trees and maintaining the lot every two weeks. Neighborhood residents living near both lots were interviewed, and those living near the greened lots were interviewed both before and after the makeover.
What did the researchers find? Those living near the greened vacant lots felt safer than their counterparts who lived near the control vacant lot. The researchers also analyzed crime rates (or at least, crimes that were reported to the police) from three months before and after the greening, only to find that there was a decline in crime after greening the vacant lot.
“Vacant lot greening changes the physical environment of a neighborhood from one that may promote crime and fear to one that may reduce crime and make people feel safer,” said lead author Eugenia C. Garvin, MD, a resident in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine to Science Daily. “Our theory is that transforming vacant lots from a space overgrown with vegetation and filled with trash to a clean and green space may make it difficult for people to hide illegal guns and conduct other illegal activities such as drug use in or near the space. Additionally, green space may encourage community cohesion.”
If you think the correlation between green-space and violence is absurd or a mere coincidence, then think again! A recent study, published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning, by Austin Troy and Jarlath O’Neill-Dunne of the University of Vermont and J.Morgan Grove of the USDA Forest Service found that a a 10 percent increase in tree canopy in Baltimore City associated with an approximate 12 percent decrease in crime. And this study reiterated the findings of a 2010 study suggesting that there is a relationship between the presence, and size, of trees in a neighborhood and a lower rate of criminal activity: Researchers with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest (PNW) and Southern Research Stations deduced that large trees corresponded to lower crime rates and smaller trees to higher crime rates.
With all these positive effects, one can only hope that all vacant lots receive the “green-effect” and be turned into safe-space that reduces crime while staying green.