A new study suggests that greening vacant urban land decreases feelings of depression and increases overall mental health for residents in its proximity. The interesting findings could have implications for all cities across the United States, where approximately 15 percent of land is considered “vacant.”
“Dilapidated and vacant spaces are factors that put residents at an increased risk of depression and stress, and may explain why socioeconomic disparities in mental illness persist,” said lead author Eugenia South of the University of Pennsylvania. “What these new data show us is that making structural changes, like greening lots, has a positive impact on the health of those living in these neighborhoods. And that it can be achieved in a cost-effective and scalable way—not only in Philadelphia but in other cities with the same harmful environmental surroundings.”
Interestingly, the study revealed that interventions of trash clean-up did not significantly alter self-reported mental health.
“The lack of change in these groups is likely because the trash clean-up lots had no additional green space created,” said co-author John MacDonald, Ph.D., a professor of criminology and sociology at Penn. “The findings support that exposure to more natural environments can be part of restoring mental health, particularly for people living in stressful and chaotic urban environments.”
The study reveals how turning blighted neighborhood environments into green regions can create better trajectories for residents’ mental health.
“Greening vacant land is a highly inexpensive and scalable way to improve cities and enhance people’s health while encouraging them to remain in their home neighborhoods,” said senior author Charles C. Branas of Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine.
“While mental health therapies will always be a vital aspect of treatment, revitalizing the places where people live, work, and play, may have broad, population-level impact on mental health outcomes,” he added.
The findings were published in JAMA Network Open.