Why Housing Policy Should Be Health Policy

By: Andrew Small, Atlantic City Lab

Published: April 12, 2017

In the spring and summer of 2011, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania strapped heart monitors onto test subjects and set them loose on the side streets of Philadelphia. The subjects strolled around two clusters of vacant lots. Some of the lots had received a “greening” treatment from members of the Philadelphia Horticulture Society, who’d removed debris, planted grass and trees, and installed a low wooden post-and-rail fence. The other lots were untreated as a control. After analyzing GPS data from the subjects walks, before and after greening, the scientists found that walking in proximity to a greened space decreased subjects’ heart rates, compared to a non-greened vacant lot.

It’s just one example of how directly the city affects the bodies of those who live in it. “What I think is magical is that urban greening interventions are pretty simple,” says Joseph Schilling, a senior research associate in the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center. “It’s not as if it takes tremendous improvement to the landscape, and yet you still see this health benefit.”

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