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Vacant Lands Cause Stress and Negativity in Neighborhoods: Study

Update Date: Dec 02, 2012 11:35 AM EST

The neighborhood we live in certainly affects our physical and mental health in numerous ways. Our neighborhood influences the lifestyle choices we make to a certain extent, in turn affecting our health.

Public health researchers in the last few years have continuously been looking to understand how neighborhood conditions affect one's health and a new study conducted by researchers from Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania analyzed self-reported data of residents using in-depth interviews to examine how vacant land affects community, physical, and mental health, Medical Xpress reports.

The research emphasizes the importance of community engagement in promoting urban revitalization and expands previous studies which have associated vacant lands and poor health.

"This study prioritizes input from local residents 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 Emergency Medicine.

"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."

For the study, researchers analyzed the in-depth interviews of 50 residents and found that vacant lands are a concern for residents for community wellbeing. Researchers found that participants feel that vacant lands overshadow the positive aspects of their neighborhood.

They felt that illegal use of vacant lands, for example as a dumping ground, for prostitution, or drug sales, contributes to a sense of helplessness and a lack of trust among neighbors.

Earlier researches have shown that communities where neighbors do not have mutual trust and respect are prone to be violent, and the findings of the current study echoes the concern that vacancy promotes violent crime. This may also force people to stay inside their homes most of the time.

The usage of vacant lots for throwing garbage and other hazardous waste such as broken glass contributed to stress and depression among residents of Philadelphia.

"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 vacant lots 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."

The study was published online in the Journal of Urban Health. 

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