Combating neighborhood blight by transforming neglected lots

PHS SMPosted by Rebecca Hobble


This blog is part of our 2016 High Impact Giving Guide preview series. Now in its sixth year, the guide is a resource for donors who want to make a greater social impact with their giving. Here’s a sneak peek of one organization we’re featuring this year.

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.

One organization implementing the “cleaning and greening” model is the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS). With their Philadelphia LandCare Program, PHS partners with community-based organizations and city agencies to transform Philadelphia’s vacant land into neighborhood assets via simple landscaping and maintenance. For the past 16 years, LandCare has removed trash, planted greenery, and added fences; these changes signal that the property is cared for, rather than abandoned. They engage the local community by employing more than 150 neighborhood residents to maintain the lots. They also hire former inmates through their LandCare Reentry Inititative, which began this year and has allowed LandCare to maintain more land while providing employment for the new workers.

Now, LandCare manages 12,000 lots that comprise 16 million square feet, or one-third of Philadelphia’s vacant land. In addition to transforming these lots, they have converted 830 properties into new housing, businesses, or gardens. The landscaping is simple, but cost effective. The average lot in Philadelphia costs $1,100 to clean and green and $154 per year to maintain. In return, the nearby households see a median gain in housing wealth of almost $41,000, significant reductions in crime, and improved health.

Want to help this cause? You can adopt or maintain a lot on PHS’ giving page. If you want to bring LandCare to your city, visit their website. To learn more about vacant land initiatives, and to find other cleaning and greening programs across the country, contact the Center for Community Progress.

For more high impact opportunities like this, see our full High Impact Giving Guide, coming soon! Sign up for our listserv to stay up to date on the release of the guide and our other work.