Greening Vacant Lots Reduces Depression in City Dwellers

MacDonald news

Greening vacant urban land significantly reduces feelings of depression and improves overall mental health for surrounding residents, according to findings from a randomized, controlled study conducted by Penn and other institutions, published in JAMA Network Open. The findings have implications for cities across the U.S., where 15 percent of land is deemed “vacant,” and often blighted or filled with trash and overgrown vegetation.

For the first time, the research team measured the mental health of Philadelphia residents before and after converting nearby vacant lots into green spaces, as well as residents living near abandoned lots left untreated or that received just trash clean-up. They found that people living within a quarter mile of greened lots had a 41.5 percent decrease in feelings of depression and a nearly 63 percent decrease in self-reported “poor mental health,” compared to those who lived near the lots that received no intervention.

“The lack of change in these groups is likely because the trash clean-up lots had no additional green space created,” says co-author John MacDonald, a professor of criminology and sociology. “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.”

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