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Video-Green Areas Cutting Off Crimes, Depression and Other Things

Cleaning and greening vacant lots is “wiping out signs that nobody’s watching, nobody cares, nobody’s in charge.

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Studies: More Green Space, Less Crime, Depression in Poor Areas Pixabay
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Keith Green has an unusual fascination with vacant lots. Even on vacation.

Out for dinner in Shanghai one recent night, he came across a sight that stopped him short.

“Everyone else is taking pictures of the skyline,” he said. “I’m taking a picture of a vacant lot.”

Scourge of abandoned property

Abandoned properties don’t attract many tourists. In Green’s hometown of Philadelphia, vacant lots attract crime, from dumping trash, tires and broken appliances to stashing weapons and drugs.

Green is leading an effort to rid Philadelphia of these blights in low-income communities.

It’s a massive job. The city has an estimated 40,000 vacant lots.

But Green is witnessing how a little green space can make a big difference in urban areas plagued with poverty and crime.

Recent studies published in major scientific journals have documented how the program Green heads is helping drive substantial reductions in gun violence and depression in some of the poorest parts of Philadelphia.

Before the shooting starts

Gina South co-wrote those studies. She’s an emergency department physician at the University of Pennsylvania. Since her residency on the trauma unit, she has wanted to do more to help the people from these neighborhoods before they came to her on stretchers.

“We took care of a lot of shooting victims and did a great job of treating their physical injuries,” she said, “but did little to nothing to think about what was causing them to come in as shooting victims to us in the first place.”

Several years ago, South became interested in the program Green directs at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, called Philadelphia LandCare.

The program hires local landscapers to clear the trash and weeds from vacant lots, replace them with trees and grass, mow them twice a month, and surround them with fences with openings that invite people in.

 

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Authorities go for weeks without collecting trash resulting in Harare residents dumping it anywhere they can, creating conditions for cholera organisms to thrive, say health experts, in Harare, Zimbabwe. VOA

 

Physical, emotional benefits

South said at first she was skeptical that it would do much for residents.

But the more she and her colleagues looked into it, the more positive results they found.

In one study, they found people’s heart rates declined as they walked past cleaned-up lots. That shows their stress levels are coming down, “a physiologic reaction happening in people’s bodies in response to what’s in their neighborhood environment,” she said.

Fighting crime with lawnmowers

The most significant results come from the group’s study of 541 vacant lots scattered across the city. They were divided into three groups. One got the full cleaning and greening treatment. One just got periodic trash pickups. One got nothing.

Around the cleaned and greened lots, crime declined by nearly 10 percent overall. In the poorest neighborhoods, gun crimes fell by 17 percent.

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Disorder in the environment sends a signal that more disorder will be tolerated, including criminal behavior. Pixabay

“Those are big effects,” said Northwestern University criminologist Wesley Skogan, who was not involved with the study.

Cleaning and greening vacant lots is “wiping out signs that nobody’s watching, nobody cares, nobody’s in charge,” he added.

It fits in with a concept called the “broken windows” theory. The idea is, disorder in the environment sends a signal that more disorder will be tolerated, including criminal behavior.

The theory became controversial as it evolved into “stop and frisk” policing, in which officers confront anyone they suspect may be up to no good.

Cleaning and greening “is much closer just to fixing the … window,” Skogan said.

South’s group also found that in the lowest-income neighborhoods, nearly 70 percent fewer people said they felt depressed.

It’s good for neighborhood morale, Skogan said. “It’s a sign that someone’s looking out for them. Someone’s paying attention.”

Neighborhoods
A view shows parched grass from the lack of rain in Greenwich Park, backdropped by the Royal Museums Greenwich and the skyscrapers of the Canary Wharf business district, during what has been the driest summer for many years in London. VOA

‘I didn’t think it would work’

The program is working better than even Green expected.

He had been doing community gardening with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society as the LandCare program was getting started in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“I was curious about the program. I didn’t think it would work,” he said.

At the time, he was planting flowers and shrubs and surrounding them with cyclone fences “to keep people out,” he said.

“This project was inviting people in. I was like, ‘That’s not going to work. People aren’t going to respect it.’”

“Then I started seeing people put picnic tables on it, putting garden areas in certain spots. They’re not destroying it,” he added. “Then I was like, ‘This can actually work.’ When I had the opportunity, I was all in.”

Green said each lot costs about $1,600 to treat and about $200 per year to maintain.

Neighborhoods
An abandoned house with an overgrown lot is seen in Brightmoor, a neighborhood on Detroit’s northwest side, July 19, 2013. Brightmoor is one of the city’s more blighted neighborhoods. VOA

“It is a bargain,” South said.

However, Skogan would like to see research showing how it compares to other approaches.

“Probably nobody thought it was a bad idea to clean things up and put up fences,” he said. “It’s always a question of whether you do this versus something else. What this (research) says is, it’s not foolish.”

Green said he gets calls from officials across the country and the world asking how a little green space can help revive their neighborhoods.

Also Read: Cybercrimes Cost Businesses $600 bn Globally: McAfee Reports

He said he sees people’s mindsets changing in neighborhoods where he’s working. Kids don’t throw trash in the cleaned-up lots, he said. They pick it up.

That’s been satisfying enough, he said. “But when you start throwing (in) these numbers, like, gun violence is going down, and people’s heart rates are being reduced, people are exercising more in certain sections of Philadelphia, you’re just like, wow.” (VOA)

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Greening Vacant Lots can Reduce Depression in Urban Areas

The findings support that exposure to more natural environments can be part of restoring mental health, particularly for people living in stressful and chaotic urban environments

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Greening vacant land is a highly inexpensive and scalable way to improve cities and enhance people's health.
Greening vacant land is a highly inexpensive and scalable way to improve cities and enhance people's health. Pixabay

Greening sidewalks, parks and vacant or dilapidated spaces could be an important and inexpensive tool to help address the rising cases of depression, anxiety and stress in urban communities, suggests a study.

“Dilapidated and vacant spaces are factors that put residents at an increased risk of depression and stress and may explain why socioeconomic disparities in mental illness persist,” said lead author Eugenia South, Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania in the US.

“Greening vacant land is a highly inexpensive and scalable way to improve cities and enhance people’s health… while mental health therapies will always be a vital aspect of treatment. Revitalizing the places where people live, work and play may have broad, population-level impact on mental health outcomes,” added Charles Branas, Professor at the varsity.

In an experiment, published in JAMA Network Open, the research team measured the mental health of 342 Philadelphia residents before and after 541 vacant lots had been converted into green spaces as well as residents living near untreated abandoned lots, and those that just received trash clean-up.

In neighbourhoods below the poverty line, the feelings of depression among residents who lived near green lots decreased significantly by more than 68 per cent.
In neighbourhoods below the poverty line, the feelings of depression among residents who lived near green lots decreased significantly by more than 68 per cent. Pixabay

They found that people living within a quarter of a mile radius of greened lots had a 41.5 per cent decrease in feelings of depression compared to those who lived near the lots that had not been cleaned.

Those living near green lots also experienced a nearly 63 per cent decrease in self-reported poor mental health compared to those living near lots that received no intervention.

“What these new data show us is that making structural changes, like greening lots, has a positive impact on the health of those living in these neighbourhoods. And that it can be achieved in a cost-effective and scalable way,” Branas said.

Also Read: HIV Drug Is Not Linked to Depression: Study

In neighbourhoods below the poverty line, the feelings of depression among residents who lived near green lots decreased significantly by more than 68 per cent.

“The findings support that exposure to more natural environments can be part of restoring mental health, particularly for people living in stressful and chaotic urban environments,” the researchers said. (IANS)