High Impact Opportunity: Urban Renewal

Vacant lots comprise more than one-fifth of the land area in most post-industrial U.S. cities. For residents in those neighborhoods, the lots function as breeding grounds for pests, provide a haven for illegal activities, and attract litter and illegal dumping—all of which degrade the quality of life for residents and lower the property values in that community. Here’s one organization’s pioneering solution.

What It Does

In partnership with community-based groups and city agencies, Philadelphia LandCare transforms city neighborhoods by “cleaning and greening” neglected and vacant lots. For the past 16 years, LandCare has removed debris and planted grass and trees on vacant city tracts. Today, the group manages some 12,000 lots, comprising some 16 million square feet—about one third of Philadelphia’s vacant land—of city green space. It also employs more than 150 neighborhood residents to clean and mow the spaces monthly, investing nearly 78% of its nonprofit budget in hiring locally.

In 2016, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society launched the LandCare Reentry Initiative, a program that facilitated the hiring of more than 40 former inmates by 11 of LandCare’s landscaping contractors. To provide work for the new hires, the contractors were given additional lots to maintain, an effort that added 2,000 new lots to LandCare’s inventory.

How Effective Is It

Philadelphia LandCare not only grooms these tracts, but has been able to convert 830 properties into new housing, businesses, or gardens since 2000. The landscaping is simple. Yet the results are dramatic: researchers estimate that households near transformed lots see a median gain in housing wealth of nearly $41,000, as well as significant reductions in crime and improved health. One study from the University of Pennsylvania even showed that simply walking by a greened lot lowered residents’ heart rates, indicating reduced stress.

How You Can Help

Visit PHS’ giving page to adopt or maintain a lot. The average lot in Philadelphia costs about $1,100 to clean and green. LandCare estimates that it costs $154 per year to maintain a cleaned up lot.

Figures are based on estimates that cleaning and greening costs about $1.10 per square foot; ongoing maintenance during warmer months costs about $11 per visit.

Personalize This Project

To bring LandCare to your city, visit PHS’s website.

For more information on vacant land initiatives, including other cleaning & greening programs across the country, contact the Center for Community Progress.


Look for programs that engage members of the local communities in their work, such as through contracting local organizations or directly hiring neighborhood residents for lot maintenance.