Numbers Back Up Hunch: Greening Lots Improves Neighborhood Health

By: Taunya English
Publication: August 8, 2012

Health researchers have long suspected that “cleaning and greening” overgrown, vacant lots does a neighborhood good, now they have gathered mounting — and solid evidence — that transforming nuisance properties pays off in health dividends.

For more than a decade, Philadelphia has paid the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to rehabilitate neighborhood nuisance lots. The group now cares for about 8,000 rehabilitated properties.

“We see children walk down the middle of the street because it’s too dangerous to walk down by a vacant lot that’s heavily weeded,” said society director Bob Grossmann. “It’s a convenient place for drug dealers to stash their drugs and weapons, when the lot is cleaned and kept mowed, there’s no place to do that.”

Grossmann said clearing vermin and piled-up debris reveals a lot’s potential to local property developers and neighbors, like Andre Mears. This fall, the society cleared a lot across from the 66-year-old home near Temple University in Eastern North Philadelphia.

“The ones that aren’t cleaned up, they have been eyesores,” Mears said. “People had the tendency to just throw trash. You are going to see trash and tires and what have you, I think there is a respect for when it’s maintained.”

Grossmann rejects the idea that the society is an “outside” group that swoops into a neighborhood to fix things without community buy in.
“I get maybe six calls a day from people asking me to come out and do the lot adjacent to their house,” Grossmann said. “We take great care to talk to neighborhood residents when we do our work, many of our contractors are residents from that neighborhood.”

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