PENNSYLVANIA—Michelle Kondo, a research social scientist with the Northern Research Station’s Philadelphia Field Station, is a co-author of a new study that is the first citywide cluster randomized trial that tests the effects of inexpensive, standardized and reproducible vacant land remediation interventions—namely greening and trash cleanup—on health and safety. The study, “Effect of Greening Vacant Land on Mental Health of Community-Dwelling Adults,” is available online.
The findings have implications for cities throughout the United States, where 15 percent of land is deemed vacant. Previous studies have demonstrated a correlation between neighborhood conditions such as vacant property, uncollected trash, and lack of sidewalks and parks with depression. This study, however, is the first where a research team studied the problem as they would a new drug—with a randomized controlled trial that measured the mental health of residents before and after any work was done.
Scientists assigned 110 vacant lot clusters in Philadelphia, Penn., for a total of 541 vacant lots, to one of three study groups: the greening intervention clusters, the trash cleanup intervention, or the control group, where no intervention occurred. Eighteen months after greening projects began, 342 residents in neighborhoods that were at or below-poverty reported improvement. Of those living within a quarter-mile of an intervention area, 41 percent of the people included in the study reported feeling significantly less depressed, and self-reported poor mental health showed a reduction of nearly 63 percent.