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Randomized Controlled Trial
. 2018 Mar 20;115(12):2946-2951.
doi: 10.1073/pnas.1718503115. Epub 2018 Feb 26.

Citywide Cluster Randomized Trial to Restore Blighted Vacant Land and Its Effects on Violence, Crime, and Fear

Free PMC article
Randomized Controlled Trial

Citywide Cluster Randomized Trial to Restore Blighted Vacant Land and Its Effects on Violence, Crime, and Fear

Charles C Branas et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. .
Free PMC article


Vacant and blighted urban land is a widespread and potentially risky environmental condition encountered by millions of people on a daily basis. About 15% of the land in US cities is deemed vacant or abandoned, an area roughly the size of Switzerland. In a citywide cluster randomized controlled trial, we investigated the effects of standardized, reproducible interventions that restore vacant land on the commission of violence, crime, and the perceptions of fear and safety. Quantitative and ethnographic analyses were included in a mixed-methods approach to more fully test and explicate our findings. A total of 541 randomly sampled vacant lots were randomly assigned into treatment and control study arms; outcomes from police and 445 randomly sampled participants were analyzed over a 38-month study period. Participants living near treated vacant lots reported significantly reduced perceptions of crime (-36.8%, P < 0.05), vandalism (-39.3%, P < 0.05), and safety concerns when going outside their homes (-57.8%, P < 0.05), as well as significantly increased use of outside spaces for relaxing and socializing (75.7%, P < 0.01). Significant reductions in crime overall (-13.3%, P < 0.01), gun violence (-29.1%, P < 0.001), burglary (-21.9%, P < 0.001), and nuisances (-30.3%, P < 0.05) were also found after the treatment of vacant lots in neighborhoods below the poverty line. Blighted and vacant urban land affects people's perceptions of safety, and their actual, physical safety. Restoration of this land can be an effective and scalable infrastructure intervention for gun violence, crime, and fear in urban neighborhoods.

Keywords: criminology; environment; epidemiology; ethnography; human geography.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.
Vacant land treatment process showing blighted preperiod conditions and postperiod restorations. The magnification (Upper Center) shows the grass seeding method used to rapidly complete the treatment process. Lots shown here are representative of those in the study, although for purposes of confidentiality are not actual study lots.

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