Study finds residents believe vacant land threatens community, physical and mental health

November 30, 2012, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

As public health researchers continue efforts to understand the effects of neighborhood conditions on health, residents themselves can provide valuable insights regarding public health issues and potential solutions. A new study from researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania uses in-depth interviews with local residents to examine perspectives on how vacant land affects community, physical, and mental health. The study highlights the importance of community engagement in promoting urban revitalization. Full results of the study, which mirror and expand upon previous studies linking vacant land to poor health, are published online in the Journal of Urban Health.

"This study prioritizes input from local to help us better understand community concerns. Residents in this study clearly see vacant land as a negative force that undermines health in their own neighborhoods," said lead author Eugenia C. Garvin, MD, a resident in the Department of . "As local communities work to recover from the recent housing crisis, which has caused a significant increase in vacancy rates, the perspectives of residents reinforce the idea that both the economy and health suffer when neighborhoods decline."

An analysis of 50 in-depth interviews reveals that residents are concerned about the effect of vacant land on community well being. Participants feel vacant land overshadows the positive aspects of their neighborhood. For example, illegal use of vacant land for dumping, prostitution, or drug sales contributes to a sense of and a lack of trust among neighbors. Prior research has shown that communities lacking collaboration and respect for one another are more likely to have increased rates of violence. Participants in the latest study echo the concern that vacancy promotes violent crime, making people feel less safe and often forcing them to stay inside. The presence of vacant lots – which are often strewn with garbage, vermin and other hazards such as broken glass – contributed to a sense of stress among Philadelphia residents, making them feel angry, or even depressed.

Though strategies for dealing with vacant land fall under the broad spectrum of urban planning and revitalization, the study suggests that the success of community programs aimed at reducing the negative effect neighborhood conditions have on health will depend heavily on incorporating the priorities and concerns of local residents into their design.

"Participants in the study had their own ideas for how to change vacant land from a negative to a positive influence in their communities," Garvin explained. "Some suggested transforming to playgrounds and turning abandoned homes into subsidized housing. Some even felt they could take on small improvement projects themselves if given the proper resources by the city. Working with community groups and local residents is a huge opportunity for policy makers. The success of public health policies will depend heavily on the city's commitment to deploying the necessary resources and working with residents who experience the effects firsthand."

Explore further: Rehabilitating vacant lots improves urban health and safety, study finds

Related Stories

Rehabilitating vacant lots improves urban health and safety, study finds

November 17, 2011
Greening of vacant urban land may affect the health and safety of nearby residents, according to a study published online in the American Journal of Epidemiology this week. The team, led by senior author Charles C. Branas, ...

Recommended for you

Air pollution may shorten telomeres in newborns

January 24, 2018
A study conducted before and after the 2004 closure of a coal-burning power plant in Tongliang, China, found children born before the closure had shorter telomeres than those conceived and born after the plant stopped polluting ...

Number of older people with four or more diseases will double by 2035, say researchers

January 23, 2018
A study published today in Age and Ageing, the scientific journal of the British Geriatrics Society, reports that the number of older people diagnosed with four or more diseases will double between 2015 and 2035. A third ...

Placental accumulation of flame retardant chemical alters serotonin production in rats

January 22, 2018
A North Carolina State University-led research team has shown a connection between exposure to a widely used flame retardant chemical mixture and disruption of normal placental function in rats, leading to altered production ...

Marijuana use does not lower chances of getting pregnant

January 22, 2018
Marijuana use—by either men or women—does not appear to lower a couple's chances of getting pregnant, according to a new study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers.

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds

January 19, 2018
A new study found that women who took a specially prepared blend of minerals and nutrients for a month saw their 3-mile run times drop by almost a minute.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.