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Greening empty lots helps reduce depression for city residents

A new study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine has found that greening vacant lots can have a positive impact on the mental health of people who live in the city.

The researchers demonstrated that transforming abandoned city lots can reduce feelings of depression among residents.

Across the United States, 15 percent of urban land is classified as “vacant” and is often filled with trash and overgrown vegetation.

For the investigation, 541 vacant lots throughout Philadelphia were randomly assigned to one of three conditions including greening, a trash clean-up, or no intervention.

Before and after the trial, the research team assessed the mental health of 342 Philadelphia residents who lived within a quarter of a mile radius of the vacant lots.

The study revealed that people living close to the lots that were greened had a 41.5-percent decrease in feelings of depression compared to those who lived near the lots that had not been cleaned. In addition, individuals living near green lots reported a nearly 63-percent decrease in poor mental health compared to those living near lots that received no intervention.

“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 Dr. Eugenia C. South.

“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.”

The study is published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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