Healing the Neighborhood: The Power of Gardens

Nicola Allen in front of her North End Hartford home (photo courtesy Hartford Journal)

Nicola Allen knew that she had to do something to make her North End neighborhood in Hartford, CT safer and nicer. And after much thought and some time driving around suburban neighborhoods that seemed better, she arrived at the solution: Gardens. “Suburban homeowners took pride in their homes and landscapes. She decided to make her property look more like the landscapes she admired,” reports Theresa Sullivan Barger in a recent Hartford Courant article, Urban Flower Power: Gardens Turn Blighted Burton Street Area Into Oasis Of Color.” By working in her own garden, Allen has inspired others in the neighborhood to do the same, and their efforts have paid off: The neighborhood really has improved. Did she know that environmental psychologists have been researching this subject and coming up with similar findings?

Frances Kuo and others at the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory, University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana, have been documenting the importance of nature in the built environment, especially in urban areas with high crime rates. Again and again, they have found that the greener the surroundings, the healthier, happier, and safer the people are who live there. All of these papers can be accessed from the LHHL website, and you can link to them individually below:

Adding Trees Makes Life More Manageable: Trees ease poverty’s burden in inner city neighborhoods.
Kuo, F.E. (2001). Coping with poverty: Impacts of environment and attention in the inner city. Environment & Behavior, 33(1), 5-34.

Views of Greenery Help Girls Succeed: Girls with a home view of nature score higher on tests of concentration and self-discipline.
Faber Taylor, A., Kuo, F.E., & Sullivan, W.C. (2002). “Views of Nature and Self-Discipline: Evidence from Inner City Children.” Journal of Environmental Psychology, 22, 49-63.

Vegetation May Cut Crime in the Inner City: In an inner city neighborhood, the greener the residence, the lower the crime rate.
Kuo, F.E., & Sullivan, W.C. (2001). “Environment and crime in the inner city: Does vegetation reduce crime?” Environment and Behavior, 33(3), 343-367.

Trees Linked with [Less] Domestic Violence in the Inner City: Aggression and Violence are Reduced with Nature Nearby.
Kuo, F.E. & Sullivan W.C. (2001). Aggression and violence in the inner city: Impacts of environment via mental fatigue. Environment & Behavior, 33(4), 543-571.

Where Trees are Planted, Communities Grow: Green spaces entice neighbors outdoors on a regular basis, where they build friendship and ties to one another.
Kuo, F.E., Sullivan, W.C., Coley, R.L., & Brunson, L. (1998). Fertile ground for community: Inner-city neighborhood common spaces. American Journal of Community Psychology, 26(6), 823-851.