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Environment

The Healing Potential of Turning Vacant Lots Green

A new study finds turning vacant lots into green space can improve the mental health of residents in the hardest-hit neighborhoods.
A garden built to collect stormwater runoff in the Warrendale neighborhood of Detroit.
A garden built to collect stormwater runoff in the Warrendale neighborhood of Detroit. Carlos Osorio/AP

More than 43,000 lots in Philadelphia sit vacant, many invaded with overgrown weeds and strewn with trash. As CityLab has previously reported, this is as much a public-health problem as it is an economic one. Walking past such a site, researchers have previously found, can make your heat beat just a little faster, indicating increased levels of stress. And it’s no wonder: Studies have also shown that urban blight tends to attract crime and gun violence.

It’s all taking a toll on the mental health of residents in vacancy-hit neighborhoods. “People felt that [the vacancies and abandonment] fractured ties between neighbors, [affecting] the social milieu of the neighborhood,” says Eugenia South, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine who’s been studying the health effects of urban blight in Philadelphia. People also told her that they “felt stigmatized, neglected by the government,” as well as experiencing “depression, anxiety, stress, and fear.”