More Than Just An Eyesore: Local Insights And Solutions on Vacant Land And Urban Health

Abstract

Vacant land is a significant economic problem for many cities, but also may affect the health and safety of residents. In order for community-based solutions to vacant land to be accepted by target populations, community members should be engaged in identifying local health impacts and generating solutions. We conducted 50 in-depth semi-structured interviews with people living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a city with high vacancy, about the impact of vacant land on community and individual health and safety, as well as ideas for solutions to vacant land. Participants described a neighborhood physical environment dominated by decaying abandoned homes and overgrown vacant lots which affected community well-being, physical health, and mental health. Vacant land was thought to affect community well-being by overshadowing positive aspects of the community, contributing to fractures between neighbors, attracting crime, and making residents fearful. Vacant land was described as impacting physical health through injury, the buildup of trash, and attraction of rodents, as well as mental health through anxiety and stigma. Participants had several ideas for solutions to vacant land in their community, including transformation of vacant lots into small park spaces for the elderly and playgrounds for youth, and the use of abandoned homes for subsidized housing and homeless shelters. A few participants took pride in maintaining vacant lots on their block, and others expressed interest in performing maintenance but lacked the resources to do so. Public health researchers and practitioners, and urban planners should engage local residents in the design and implementation of vacant land strategies. Furthermore, municipalities should ensure that the health and safety impact of vacant land helps drive policy decisions around vacant land.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank our community-based interviewers, Denise Heard and Keith Gant, for their wonderful work as well as the two communities that participated in the study.

This project was funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Education Fund.

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None of the authors have financial disclosures.

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Correspondence to Eugenia Garvin.

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Garvin, E., Branas, C., Keddem, S. et al. More Than Just An Eyesore: Local Insights And Solutions on Vacant Land And Urban Health. J Urban Health 90, 412–426 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11524-012-9782-7

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Keywords

  • Vacant land
  • Neighborhood conditions
  • Public health
  • Safety
  • Local perspective
  • Qualitative research
  • Urban blight
  • Urban renewal