Thursday, April 5, 2012

Benefits of Vacant Lot Revitalization

Baltimore City has roughly 14,000 vacant lots throughout its neighborhoods. Revitalizing those vacant lots has lasting benefits.

Social Benefits

There are social benefits of vacant lot revitalization. The Broken Window Theory states that “a disorderly environment sends a message that no one is in charge, thus increasing fear, weakening community controls, and inviting criminal behavior.”[1] If there is one vacant lot in a neighborhood it can send a message to everyone that this neighborhood has a disorderly environment. If a neighborhood has many vacant lots, sometimes even into the hundreds in many of our Baltimore neighborhood, it sends an even stronger message.

Revitalizing a vacant lot can have a strong effect in changing that disorderly message. From a study done in Lowell, MA, the Boston Globe reports that cleaning up the physical environment in crime hot spots had was very effective on crim rates. The Boston Globe writes, “…changing the nature of a place had a stronger effect on crime than misdemeanor arrests.”[2]

One thing to note is that if you have more people out on the street doing positive activities - such as cleaning up and working on a vacant lot, you have more eyes outside and less of a chance of crime. A couple examples from Baltimore's own streets exemplify just that. The Duncan Street Miracle Garden in East Baltimore used to be a site of dumping and rape, and now it is safe enough that people feel comfortable working there alone on their garden plots. The Memory Garden in Sandtown Winchester was on a corner where there had been a number of shootings, and there have been none since.[3] Homestead Harvest community garden had drug related debris on the site which has since disappeared due to the garden's presence.

Mental Benefits

There are mental benefits that come with working outside. Many of the neighborhoods with lots of vacant lots do not necessarily have access to outside recreational areas. However, revitalizing a vacant lot can be that access to nature. “…contact with nature is supportive of healthy child development in several domains – cognitive, social, and emotional.”[4] Working outside can be a way to introduce children to nature, as well, as they help to revitalize a vacant lot.

Studies have been done that show how Nature's effect on your mental state is extremely positive. “University Professor Robert Ulrich found in…1984 that recovering surgical patients with a tree view had shorter postoperative stays, received fewer negative evaluations from attending nurses, used lower amounts of analgesic drugs, and had slightly fewer postsurgical complications. In subsequent research he has found that views of natural landscapes positively affect heat rate, brain waves, blood pressure, and muscle tension.”[5]


There are many physical benefits to vacant lot revitalization. Not only are you outside being active, but what you can produce on the space is good for you as well. For example, community gardens or urban agriculture. Did you know that urban agriculture is three to five times more productive per acre than large scale farming.[6]

Many of the areas in the City where there are a lot of vacant lots are also the sites of some of Baltimore's many food deserts. Raised beds on a vacant lot can provide access to nutritionally rich foods otherwise unavailable in Baltimore's Food Deserts. Studies show that community gardeners and their children eat healthier diets than do non-gardening families.


The environmental benefits of vacant lot revitalization are many. It effects our water: “Stormwater Management: Open Land, particularly spaces that easily soak up rain such as gardens turn stormwater from a pollutant to a resource. Rain absorbed into the soil is water that is not washing trash and toxic particles into the sewers and Chesapeake Bay.”[7] And our air quality - plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. And it reduces excess heat in the city – paved surfaces and roofs contribute to heat in cities and open spaces help balance this effect.


Finally, there are economic benefits. Low-wage Baltimore residents pay up to $704 more in groceries annually than wealthier Baltimoreans.[8] Low-income families tending to live in neighborhoods where there are more vacant lots could help this fact by growing a portion of their produce in revitalized vacant lots.

Housing is effected by vacant lots in an area as well - “It is estimated that a house on a block with vacant lots loses 4 to 11 percent of its value ($1,120 – $4,370) depending on the percentage of vacant lots, and that houses near maintained greened lots rose in value by an average of $13,000 (more than 13%).”[9]

If we took the time to revitalize vacant lots - the benefits are countless. When will we stand up and begin the change?

Thank you the Baltimore Green Space for many of the above factoids.

[1] Johnson, Carolyn. “Breakthrough on ‘Broken Windows’.” The Boston Globe, February 8, 2009.

[2] Johnson, Caroyln.

[3] Avins, Miriam. “Benefits of Urban Community Managed Open Space,”

[4] Taylor, Andrea Faber and Frances E. Kuo, “Is Contact with Nature Important for healthy Child Development? State of the Evidence,” in Children and Their Environments: Learning, Using and Designing Spaces. Cambridge University Press; 2006.

[5] Kirby, Ellen, and Elizabeth Peters. Community Gardening. Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, 2008.

[6] Community Gardening.

[7] Avins, Miriam.

[8] Overpriced and Underserved: How the Market is Failing Low-Wage Baltimoreans, Baltimore: Job Opportunities Task Force, 2007, p 93.

[9] Avins, Miriam, pulled from Susan Wachter, “The Determinants of Neighborhood Transformations in Philadelphia – Identification and Analysis: The New Kensington Pilot Study,” Wharton School, 2004.

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