They’re called food deserts – areas where safe and healthy food is hard to get. And they’re often in the most populated areas of a country. When local activists took it upon themselves to replace vacant lots in the Chicago suburb of Englewood, IL with community gardens, they gave residents not only a better food source but also a more crime-free neighborhood:
There’s been a growing body of research that suggests that urban farming and greening not only strengthen community bonds but also reduce violence. In 2000, Philadelphia had 54,000 vacant lots, and so the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society reclaimed 4,400 of them, mowing lands, providing upkeep, planting trees and gardens, and erecting three-foot-high fences that served no purpose other than as a kind of statement that this land now belonged to someone. The greening of these parcels (just 8 percent of the vacant land in the city) had an unexpected effect: Over the course of 10 years, it reduced shootings in the areas surrounding these renewed lots.
Oddly enough, no one seems to know exactly why crime rates drop around green spaces. Theories range from the practical (the vacant lots were used to cache weapons) to the economic (excess produce is often sold for profit, with proceeds used for neighborhood improvements) to the emotional (gardens and green spaces foster a sense of community between neighbors.) But whatever the reason, they’re working.
What do you think? Are community gardens an effective way to reduce crime? Would you be willing to see your tax dollars used in such projects? Let us know in the comments!