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Resident-led beautification of vacant lots that connects place to community

Stewart, William P., Gobster, Paul H., Rigolon, Alessandro, Strauser, John, Williams, Douglas A., van Riper, Carena J.
Landscape and urban planning 2019 v.185 pp. 200-209
beautification, cities, cleaning, focus groups, interpersonal relationships, ownership, path analysis, planting, social behavior, surveys, United States
Urban vacancy is a pressing issue in many cities across the U.S. and globally. A variety of greening strategies have been proposed and implemented for repurposing vacant lots, and their success depends upon the extent to which greening goals address the social needs of residents. The primary contribution of this paper is to explore the relationship between place and community within the context of resident-led beautification of vacant lots. We queried new owners of vacant lots purchased in disenfranchised neighborhoods through the Chicago Large Lot Program in 2015. We used a mixed-methods design that included three focus groups (n = 25) and a mail/online survey (n = 197). Our work builds upon a relational place-making framework that casts the greening of vacant lots as acts of beautification with both physical and social expressions. Focus group findings indicated that resident-initiated beautification activities of cleaning, planting, and engaging with neighbors fulfilled personal goals in ownership while strengthening interpersonal relationships, which participants hoped could transform the community of their block. We examined these results in a path analysis of constructs developed from the survey. Results showed participants’ interest in beautifying their lot positively influenced social interaction with neighbors and individual investments in caring for a new lot. Social interaction was positively correlated with place attachment, which in turn predicted sense of community. Individual investments and neighborhood change did not influence place attachment or sense of community. Our work suggests that resident-led beautification of vacant lots can be an empowering way for communities to work for positive change.