Greening Vacant Lots to Improve Adolescent Health and Reduce Crime
August 24, 2022
In 2019, Professor Kristin Mmari set out to explore how greening vacant lots could impact adolescent health, particularly among youth in disadvantaged urban areas. She developed an advisory board that included various greening programs, researchers, local and state government representatives, and young people themselves to provide feedback, review the data, and inform the design of a larger longitudinal study.
The pilot study, funded by the Initiative, found that city block groups with Care-A-Lot programs had a significant reduction in crime compared to matched block groups with no Care-A-Lot program. Mmari’s team, however, still had questions. The Care-A-Lot program is just one out of several greening programs in Baltimore. Would all greening programs show the same type of results? There are also several different ways to green a vacant lot, which could include cleaning up trash, mowing grass, building flower beds and fences, and creating community gardens. Does it matter what type of greening is being implemented to influence crime? What about whether greening could influence other health outcomes?
These questions led to the development of a four-year $1 million SCIBAR grant, which was awarded through the Initiative. Project Vital (Vacant Lot Improvement to Transform Adolescent Lives) is expanding on the pilot study to determine whether and how restoring vacant lots can mitigate health inequalities among disadvantaged adolescents.
The expanded research project includes building a sharable database with characteristics of restored and unrestored vacant lots and a longitudinal study on changes in adolescent health associated with vacant lot restoration. The team is also conducting a cost-effectiveness study to determine the impact of different lot restoration programs on youth crime and violence, mental health, and food insecurity. Finally, they are developing a blueprint for reducing adolescent health disparities through vacant lot restoration programs that can be adapted for different U.S. municipalities.
The research on the Care-A-Lot greening program has been published in Urban Forestry & Urban Greening.
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