How a little yardwork can reduce crime and improve a neighborhood's sense of safety.

Vacant lots in neighborhoods can mean trouble. Often overgrown and kind of creepy, these places can be magnets for crime, with tall grasses and bushes that can conceal criminal activity or serve as hiding places for weapons. They may even be good places to stash a body.

But not all empty lots breed crime. New research suggests that vacant lots that are cleaned up and maintained see reduced crime in their immediate surroundings. Cleaning and greening empty lots can even make people feel safer, according to the study from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, published this week in the journal Injury Prevention.

The research is based on two separate clusters of vacant lots in Philadelphia – one set that was eventually cleaned up and maintained and one that wasn't. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society helped by removing debris from some sites, planting grass and trees, building fences and doing maintenance every two weeks. The researchers analyzed police records for these areas for the three months before the empty lot greening and the three months after and found a decrease in total crime as well as drops in assaults with and without a gun. Residents living near the greened lots reported feeling significantly safer than those living near the untouched empty lots.

The study builds on the previous work of one its main authors, who analyzed thousands of greened and non-greened empty lots over the course of more than a decade and found significant decreases in gun assaults around the areas that had been greened.

Though the findings of this newer study show only slight decreases in crime near the cleaned-up lots, they make a good case that neighborhoods with overgrown empty lots should clean them up. A little time with a weedwhacker may be all it takes to stop your block from becoming a crime den.

Photo credit: Editor B/Flickr

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