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Credit: Alice Goulding

The restoration of vacant lots can lead to a significant decrease in crime rates, according to a recent study involving Penn researchers.

Researchers from from Penn, Columbia University, the University of California, Los Angeles, Rutgers University, and the United States Forest Service collaborated to conduct a study using randomly selected vacant lots in Philadelphia. 

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study detailed how areas around cleaned lots saw average decreases of 22, 29, and 30 percent in burglaries, gun violence, and minor nuisances, respectively. Nearly 60 percent of residents in the surrounding area reported feeling much safer.  

“Our analyses showed a substantial reduction in crime,” John MacDonald, senior paper author and Penn professor of Criminology and Sociology said to Penn News. “Particularly, a large reduction in gun assaults in neighborhoods that were in the lower 50 percent of income distribution in Philadelphia.”

To conduct the study, researchers randomly selected 541 lots to receive varying amounts of restoration (or no restoration) according to Penn News. They then perused applicable police reports relevant to those lots over a 18-month period. The researchers also interviewed 445 residents throughout the restoration process while two anthropologists observed two neighborhoods. 

According to Plan Philly, the Philadelphia neighborhoods to experience the largest decreases in crime were poor sections of Kensington, the Southwest, and North Philly. 

“People have a sense of ownership more,” MacDonald said to Plan Philly. “It’s not a place to hide out easily. So, there’s lots of reasons that in addition to making you feel better, it actually is safe.”