What if urban planners treated green space like a drug?

By Sarah DeWeerdt ~ Anthropocene ~

Turning derelict vacant lots into pocket parks is associated with reduced feelings of depression and worthlessness among people living nearby, according to a new study conducted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The study is the latest entry in a growing body of research documenting the mental health benefits of urban green space. Previous research has found that vacant lots, trash, and lack of greenery can contribute to stress and possibly mental illness such as depression. Other work has shown that spending time in green space can reduce mental fatigue and stress.

What’s unique about the new study is that the researchers treated green space like a drug or vaccine and designed a randomized controlled trial – the gold standard for evaluating health treatments – to gauge its efficacy. They say it is the first citywide trial of urban greening as a mental health intervention.

In the study, researchers identified 541 vacant lots throughout Philadelphia and divided them into 110 clusters of about 4 to 6 nearby lots. Then they randomly assigned each cluster to one of three groups: In the first group, vacant lots were cleared and planted with grass and trees, and had a low fence with openings for people to walk through installed around the perimeter.

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