Green Spaces as Nature’s Medicine

Today’s blog is by GTECH’s Policy & Research Intern, Lilli Kashef Hamadani.

Over the past two years, GTECH has been working with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to maintain vacant lots in Pittsburgh by contracting small business and nonprofits through the LandCare Program. Programs such as LandCare have been popping up all over the nation, and have been found to be largely beneficial to the residents, participants, and the city itself. Since programs like these impact thousands of residents nationally (and now locally with LandCare having contractors in Homewood, Larimer, Manchester, Hazelwood, and the Hill District) it’s important to consider the costs and benefits to communities that now have more maintained green spaces and lots as a result.

A study conducted by Eugenia Garvin in the Journal of Urban health found that unmaintained vacant lots attracts crime, littering and dumping, and creates stress amongst a community. With vacant lots being disproportionally greater in under-served communities, these residents are getting the added stresses from the overgrown lots. Also, increased crime in communities decreases the amount of time that residents spend outside, mainly due to fear from criminal activity in the neighborhood. The littering and dumping can create fire hazards, and be full of dangerous materials that could be hazardous to children. Furthermore, the littering can decrease property values as others are not likely to want to live in an area that is not being maintained. Overall, underutilized land is an issue that impacts communities in a multifaceted way, yet the benefits from clearing these lots are invaluable to residents. This is where the need for programs such as LandCare comes in.

Example of a stabilized and maintained lot.

An increase in maintained lots and green spaces enables community members to spend more time outside, improve mental health, and improve local economy. The LandCare Program enables community members to receive these benefits and more. Cleaning up vacant lots decreases crime, which then increases safety within that neighborhood. Furthermore, a reduction in crime leads to an increase in time spent outside for residents. This gives community members the ability to increase their physical health from exercise and improve their mental health from spending more time in nature. Green spaces provide an escape from everyday life and therefore, decrease overall stress for residents. With vacant lots being maintained property values will begin to increase, and the amount of money spent in the community will also go up. Bringing the community together to have greater access to green spaces through maintenance strengthens community pride. Furthermore, seeing a positive change through stewardship empowers residents to make positive changes that extend beyond vacant lot maintenance programs.

Garvin, Eugenia, Charles Branas, Shimrit Keddem, Jeffrey Sellman, and Carolyn Cannuscio. “More Than Just An Eyesore: Local Insights And Solutions on Vacant Land And Urban Health.” Journal of Urban Health 90.3 (2012): 412-26. Web.

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