The stress of living with vacant land

There are over 45,000 vacant lots in Allegheny County. If you live here, it’s likely you see vacant lots near your home or on your route to the grocery store, work, or school. Have you ever thought about how those vacant lots affect you and your neighbors? Does one lot really make a difference?

Well, the research says “yes”. One lot really does make a difference.

Vacant Lot Garfield Kincaid

The places that we live in are ingrained in us. When a vacant lot disrupts the fabric of our communities, it affects us in very real ways. In fact, a study in the American Journal of Public Health shows that our heart rates and stress levels are impacted by the landscapes around us. When a vacant lot is in sight, our heart rates rise and we feel more stressed.

Read the full study here if you want to get technical -->

For this particular study, researchers mapped the stress of individuals as they walked by vacant lots in Philadelphia. Heart rate, an indicator for stress, was recorded using geo-located heart monitors. The heart rates of the individuals were first tested when they walked by unkempt vacant lots in the neighborhoods they lived in. Later, their heart rates were tested when they walked by the same vacant lots after those lots had been greened and cleaned. The result was that individuals had lower heart rates (and lower stress) when a vacant lot was in view that had been greened and cleaned-up. They had higher heart rates (and higher stress) when a vacant lot was in view that was unkempt, or when no vacant lot was in view.

This study shows us that when a person puts effort into cleaning up a vacant lot, they are helping to lower the stress of their neighbors. What’s the big deal about stress? It’s been been shown to have direct effects on our physical and emotional health. So, perhaps a vacant lot is a good starting place for change. At GTECH, we know that changing an unjust environment is tough work, but that cleaning up a vacant lot is a low-cost solution to begin that work. Over the past decade, GTECH has worked to mobilize residents, local policy-makers, and organizations to transform vacant spaces into thriving places that everyone can enjoy. If you’d like to join the movement of people reclaiming vacant spaces in Allegheny County, start by clicking here to see what projects we’re working on, and learn more about how neighbors are working on the issues of blight and disinvestment. If you have a specific idea for one of those vacant lots in your neighborhood, visit to share your ideas on the map.


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