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How Urban Ugliness Increases Stress

The definition of blight may be in the eye of the beholder, but it may also be subconscious. Broken windows, abandoned buildings, and weed-filled yards may actually create stress and degrade health, according to a small study out of Philadelphia.
April 26, 2015, 1pm PDT | Josh Stephens | @jrstephens310
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Designations of blight have a fraught legal history in the United States, with many so-called blighted neighborhoods being wiped out by urban renewal projects in the 1950s through 1970s. Regardless of what the law says, the subconscious mind may in fact know blight when it sees it. 

A recent study by Gina South, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, looked at Philadelphia residents' responses to blight-reduction efforts. The results of her small sample suggest that residents' heart rates and stress levels dropped when they observed lots that had been de-blighted through repairs, cleanups, and various greening techniques. 

"There is increasing evidence to show that our environments do affect our health," South told "Urban planners really need to consider that as we intervene in places. Cities like Baltimore, Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia all have high rates of vacant land and that really impacts the health of people living in those neighborhoods."

"If that turns out the way we think it will, vacant lot greening really will be [proven to be a] low cost intervention cities can take to impact health and safety for a lot of residents," she said.

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Published on Tuesday, April 21, 2015 in Fast Co.Exist
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