Echo Haven Helps Communities Transform Vacant Lots in Northern California into Healthier and Safer Areas.

Share Article

Echo Haven provides new development service to communities. A recent University of Pennsylvania study concluded that greening old, vacant lots not only provides plenty of healthy benefits to communities, but it might also help reduce crime.

Community gardens offer a focal point for community organizing, and can lead to community-based efforts to deal with other social concerns.

All over northern California many communities are transforming vacant lots into urban farms and community gardens. “It’s a growing trend that seems to have a life of its own” says Joe Gibbs, Executive Director of Echo Haven, a California based nonprofit agency that assists communities to covert empty lots into productive gardens.

Echo Haven helps develop community gardens which strengthen local communities through building relationships with neighbors, and supplying fresh, reasonably priced, locally grown food to residents of a neighborhood who would otherwise have little access to it.

But that’s not all, Gibbs also cited a recent University of Pennsylvania study which concluded that greening old, vacant lots not only provides plenty of healthy benefits to communities, but it might also help reduce crime.

University of Pennsylvania researchers started with two types of lots consisting of controlled vacant, overgrown lots and ones renovated with help from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, who cleaned, planted trees and grass and build a wooden fence around each lot. Researchers interviewed 21 residents near each lot before and after the experiment. Residents living around greened lots said they felt safer following the renovations.

Researchers also looked at crime statistics three months before the renovations and three months after. Areas with greened lots saw a total reduction in crime, including gun crime and assault without guns. The researchers attribute the reduction to an overall sense of community in areas with greened lots. Additionally, greened lots limit options to hide illegal activities, such as hiding illegal guns or drug use. Similar studies confirm that there might be a connection between greenery and crime statistics. A study by the University of Vermont and the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station found that trees and greenery have an impact on crime.

Echo Haven partners with banks and developers to get the land donated and them works with municipalities and local communities to transform the lots to community gardens.

Gibbs discussed the economic value of community gardens for municipalities such as;

  •     Developing and maintaining garden space is less expensive than parkland area, in part because gardens require little land and the majority of cost is labor which is supplied by volunteers close to the garden.
  •     Community gardens have been shown to actually increase property values in the immediate vicinity where they are located.
  •     Owners of small companies ranked recreation, parks, and open space as their highest priority in choosing a new location for a business.

In addition to the benefits for local government, he also pointed out the personal benefits such as;

  •     Studies have shown that community gardeners and their children eat healthier, more nutrient rich diets than do non-gardening families
  •     Increasing the consumption of fresh local produce is one of the best ways to reduce childhood exposure to chemical fertilizers and pesticides
  •     Community gardens provide access to traditional produce or nutritionally rich foods that may otherwise be unavailable to low-income families and individuals
  •     Urban agriculture is 3-5 times more productive per acre than traditional large-scale farming.
  •     Local agriculture conserves resources by shortening the commodity chain, saving on fuel demanding transportation and packaging
  •     Community gardens offer unique opportunities to establish relationships within and across physical and social barriers.
  •     Community gardens offer a focal point for community organizing, and can lead to community-based efforts to deal with other social concerns.

Pointing to the ground, Gibbs said there used to be houses here decades ago. Now it is a new community garden than will provide numerous benefits to the community and its residents. He motioned to one of the men working in a row of bush beans (Ed), who has been dealing with PTSD for many years. He tells me that his involvement with this garden reduces his stress and increases his sense of wellness and belonging – and that’s really comforting to know you're able to impact people in such a positive way.

To learn more about Echo Haven urban gardening and affordable housing projects visit http://www.echo-haven.org

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Keith Allen
Visit website