Greening vacant spaces in Philadelphia has been found to reduce crime, according to Perelman School of Medicine research.
Published last month in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the study examined vacant lots transformed into parks over nine years by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.
The PHS greened almost 4,500 vacant lots between 1999 and 2008 in Philadelphia, removing trash and planting grass and trees.
A team of researchers, led by associate professor of Epidemiology Charles Branas, studied the crime and health effects of these lots by comparing them to lots that stayed vacant, using data from the Philadelphia Police Department and Philadelphia Health Management Corporation.
They found the greening was associated with reductions in gun assaults across Philadelphia. In one part of the city, greening was associated with reduced vandalism.
Greening was also correlated with reductions in stress and increased exercise reported by residents.
“Dr. Branas’ study adds to the growing body of evidence that cleaned and greened lots are important elements in a revitalized community,” Philadelphia Mayor and 1979 Wharton graduate Michael Nutter said in a statement.
Vacant lots are often places for criminal activity, Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush explained. When she worked in the Narcotics Unit for the Philadelphia Police, she was involved in drug busts that occurred in vacant lots.
Drug dealers would hide their stash among trash in those areas, she added. Her team once uncovered drugs hidden in a dirty diaper.
Although there have not been many vacant lots around Penn in recent years, University City has undergone a large transformation, which may have led to a reduction in crime, Rush said.
“Since the 1990’s, we have added almost 25 acres of green space to the campus in the form of walks, lawns and plazas,” University Landscape Architect Bob Lundgren wrote in an email.
In the 90s, Barnes and Noble and other retailers on 36th and Walnut streets did not exist, Rush said. In their place was a parking lot, making for a less vibrant and thus less safe area.
“Penn’s green spaces, including very prominently the new Penn Park, are great opportunities for the Penn community and the local community to connect and take ownership of their public spaces,” Branas wrote in an email.
Spaces such as Penn Park create a welcoming environment for both members of the Penn community and the greater Philadelphia community, Rush said.
However, the mingling of community members may not be beneficial. The study also found that acts of disorderly conduct increased after the lots were greened, which may be explained by increased community gatherings.
This has not been the case so far at Penn. Since its opening in September, Penn Park has seen no reported crime other than lost items, Rush said.
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