Case Study

Human Health

Philadelphia LandCare Program


Center for High Impact Philanthropy, University of Pennyslvania

photos credit: Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

Planting trees in vacant lots have been proven to significantly reduce heart rates and stress of citizens in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia, PA

Warm and humid summers, mild fall and spring, cold winters


42.2% African American, 36.9% White, 12.3% Hispanic, 6.3% Asian, 2.3% Other

Vacant lots are not only aesthetically displeasing when overgrown or become a dumping site for unwanted trash and belongings, but also significantly impact the public health of the neighborhood. 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.

The Philadelphia Horticulture Society launched a service project, LandCare, in transitional neighborhoods in order to combat the negative implications of vacant lots and, surprisingly reaped vast heart health benefits.

Since 2004 the Philadelphia Horticulture Society (PHS) has been greening vacant lots encouraging urban forestry. The PHS planted new trees, plants, and grasses and picked up litter in vacant lots in hopes of cleaning their city and improving residential health. The project was astonishingly well received and continues to improve the city today.


Heart Rates

Vacant lots without maintenance and care become problematic to heart health due to exposure to possible stressors like the presence of criminal activity and harmful substances that accompany environmentally unstable areas and increase the preventable stressors. Heart health also improves as urban forests promote active lifestyles. More people are prone to walk and exercise if their environment is greened. Through LandCare’s effots of greening vacant lots community members have given the opportunity to be employed as caretakers of the formerly vacant lots and turn them into a vibrant space, which only provides additional incentives to improve public health.

The American Journal of Public Health invited residents in transitional neighborhoods to aid in their research of uncovering the positive health benefits of urban forestry. They found vacant lots with greening improvements reduced heart risk by lowering heart rates by over 5 beats per minute (bpm) than when compared to unimproved vacant lots. Urban forestry has shown itself to be a vital aspect for lowering heart rates, thus removing unnecessary and preventable sources of stress.

Reentry Initiative

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.

  • Philadelphia Horticulture Society
  • City of Philadelphia
  • University of Pennsylvania- Perelman School of Medicine
  • Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center
  • Urban Institute
  • US Department of Agriculture
  • US Forest Service
Lessons Learned
  • Greening vacant lots not only improves the public health of a neighborhood, but also increases public safety, economic growth, and environmental health.
  • Giving responsibility to community members strengthens the resolve and commitment to improving vacant lots.
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