Keeping America Beautiful: PHS’s ‘Cleaning and Greening’ LandCare Program

April is Keep America Beautiful Month.

Urban vacant lots attract litter and illegal dumping, function as a breeding ground for pests, degrade the quality of life for community residents, provide a haven for illegal activities—and comprise more than a fifth of the land area
in many post-industrial U.S cities.   One solution? Community-based programs that turn vacant lots into assets by clearing trash, planting appropriate greenery, and providing maintenance.  This type of ‘cleaning and greening’ can help to stabilize neighborhoods, reduce crime, and increase home values.

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s (PHS) Philadelphia LandCare Program is one example of the ‘cleaning and greening’ model.  PHS works with community-based organizations and city agencies to transform Philadelphia’s vacant land into neighborhood assets via simple landscaping and maintenance, including removing trash, adding fences, and planting to create a ‘park-like’ setting. These changes signal that the property is cared for, rather than abandoned.

With more than 10 million square feet ‘greened’ in Philadelphia, the PHS LandCare program has been well documented in its benefits of improved safety and neighborhood stability. For approximately $1,100 (the average PHS cost to ‘clean and green’ and maintain a lot for a year), one recent study found gun-related crimes were down approximately 7% around those greened lots, as well as positive neighborhood outcomes related to health and safety. Other studies have found approximately 17% and higher increases in value for properties adjacent to vacant lots that had been ‘cleaned and greened.’

See the Center’s Food Funder Compass and our Blog Q&A with PHS to find out more about this approach.  Land reuse and ‘cleaning and greening’ programs can be found nationwide. Other examples include New York’s Green Guerrillas and Ohio’s Lots of Green.