The idea that planting vegetable gardens in abandoned lots can help reduce violence in blighted urban neighborhoods sounds ridiculously utopian...except that it might actually work:
In 2000, Philadelphia had 54,000 vacant lots, and so the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society reclaimed 4,400 of them, mowing lands, providing upkeep, planting trees and gardens, and erecting three-foot-high fences that served no purpose other than as a kind of statement that this land now belonged to someone. The greening of these parcels (just 8 percent of the vacant land in the city) had an unexpected effect: Over the course of 10 years, it reduced shootings in the areas surrounding these renewed lots. Part of it was practical: The vacant lots had previously been hiding places for guns. But as Charles Branas, an epidemiologist at the University of Pennsylvania who released a study on the project late last year, says, "People just became more in touch with their neighbors. People felt more connected to each other." Calls from neighbors complaining of nuisance crimes—acts like loitering or public urination or excessive noise—went up significantly in the immediate vicinity of the newly greened land. At first, Branas worried the land had attracted ne'er-do-wells, but what he came to realize is that it had emboldened neighbors to call the police for minor disturbances, something they hadn't done in the past.Who knows if shootings decreased because of the gardens, because of the increasing feeling of community that they fostered, or for reasons completely unrelated and coincidental? More to the point...who cares? The beauty of something like this is that there is essentially zero downside. The worst outcome is that you have vegetables growing where previously there were only weeds and garbage, and nothing else.
Cities should get (or simply stay) out of the way, and just let this sort of thing happen.