Vacant and dilapidated lots are a common city eyesore — not just in Philadelphia, but across the country. About 15 percent of urban land across the U.S. is either vacant or abandoned. And that blight not only affects a neighborhood’s appearance, it also attracts crime and makes people living in those neighborhoods feel unsafe and depressed.
But a new study by University of Pennsylvania researchers finds that something as simple as planting grass seed and a few trees can improve a community’s mental health.
The study looked at more than 500 vacant lots across Philadelphia and divided them into three groups.
One group got a green makeover: The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society removed trash; graded the land; sowed grass seed and planted a few trees; added a low wooden fence; and maintained the property once the work was complete.
The second group received a trash cleanup, limited grass mowing, and maintenance. And the third group was the control; those lots weren’t touched.
Researchers interviewed members of the community living near the blighted lots before and after the interventions. They found that people living near newly “green” vacant lots reported a reduction in feelings of depression and worthlessness.
The finding was even more pronounced when looking at neighborhoods below the poverty line where the residents’ feelings of depression decreased by 68 percent. Overall, nearly half of the those interviewed made less than $25,000 per year, and about a quarter made less than $10,000.
There was no improvement in the mental health of people living near lots where trash was cleaned up or nothing at all was done.
Linking green space, better mental health
“This is the first time that we actually have experimental evidence that putting new green space into neighborhoods can have an impact on mental health,” said Eugenia South, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and lead author of the study.
“Green space is important for health,” she said. “It’s not just important because it looks nice, but it actually can have an impact on health, particularly for low-resource communities who don’t have a lot of green space in them already.”
[To read the full article by Dana Bate: click here]