Longitudinal studies in Philadelphia and Houston showed that when the community transformed vacant lots into parks it changed the neighborhoods, mostly for the better. There was an increase in personal income and rental rates in the areas around the park. And in specific neighborhoods, but not all, there were decreases in gun assaults, vandalism, stress levels and even cholesterol.
As I read these articles I wondered what the connection was. How could trimming the grass reduce assaults? And what do vandalism and cholesterol have to do with each other? My theories, like Deep Throats, “follow(ed) the money”. Increases in the number of people with higher personal wealth could be related to the decrease in violence and the increases in health. But there is still a missing piece in this theory. A giant assumption that I am overlooking – how do plants increase personal wealth? I have three ideas.
Idea number one, the plants themselves alter human behavior. Not in some creepy, science fiction way… but rather, I wonder if humans perceive the natural world differently from the concrete world and therefore respond accordingly to each. I am not saying that if you live in the middle of the city, surrounded by buildings that you will become a stressed out, violent person. But we think of cities as fast paced, dangerous places and the country as slow-moving and serene. Maybe there is something different between green and grey and we just don’t understand yet.
My second theory is that people are drawn to these green areas and therefore pay more to be close by. This means that the areas surrounding the parks become home to wealthier people because the parks add value to the property, so to get in you need more money. People pay a lot of money to live near Central Park, why would these parks be any different. As the area becomes more affluent there is a decrease in crime and healthier individuals.
My last theory is that the parks convey a message that someone cares about this space. A vacant lot sends a message of hopelessness and abandonment. Plants are difficult to keep alive and I think these sentiments are perceived by those near the park. Maybe the message is absorbed by the people near the park and the positive vibes result in making improvements in their own lives as well as their communities.
I am not sure if any of these theories are right, but I like to think that it is a combination of these three things that results in positive impact that community gardens have on the communities they serve.