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Plants & Landscaping Lower Crime and Enhance Self-Esteem Print Email
HERNDON, VA--There are invaluable human experiences, accomplishments and success stories that are engendered by people/plant relationships. Landscaping projects in urban, low-income neighborhoods have produced a continuing history of amelioration, reduction in vandalism, and healing. Horticultural activities enhance self-esteem and enrich lives in a wide variety of community settings, including correctional institutions and schools. Recent studies as well as ones conducted over 30 years ago demonstrate how important plants are to our lives.

Charles A. Lewis, research fellow in Horticulture at Morton Arboretum, has studied the effects of plants and landscaping on people in various communities--neighborhoods, housing projects, prisons--over a 30-year period. In a paper published in The Role of Horticulture in Human Well-Being and Social Development, Lewis concluded that when horticultural programs are implemented in those communities, the landscaping process makes an enormous difference in how members feel about themselves, and the area in which they reside.

The New York City Housing Authority was one of the first to institute a tenant landscaping competition among residents of high-rise public housing in 1962. This program continues today. Open grounds, which had been dominated by gangs and drug dealers, became gardens for the residents. The Authority provided materials and horticultural expertise, and residents were responsible to their own planning, planting, and caring for the landscapes. The program culminates in an awards ceremony where slides of the winning landscapes are shown.


Lewis observed that participants developed an intensely personal feeling towards the group and the landscapes. Gardeners took pride in their accomplishments, took time to know their neighbors, and identified the garden as an area where everyone can find friendships. Landscaped areas where vandalism was extreme were not destroyed. Known troublemakers were invited to join the group, and problems decreased dramatically. Over the years, unexpected results were noted. Building managers reported those buildings with gardens and the surrounding areas were kept neat and clean. Tenants asked permission to install planters in lobbies that they would maintain.


The Chicago Housing Authority initiated a similar landscape contest in 1974, and again, residents took new pride in their communities, cleaning and painting entrance pillars, benches and chains bordering walkways in matching colors. Large murals were painted on buildings. No graffiti appeared on the decorated portions of the building. Boston, Philadelphia and all other major cities have developed extensive programs involving plants and landscaping. The outcomes are nearly always identical--streets are cleaned, vandalism is reduced, houses are painted, and an enhanced sense of neighborliness.

Prison communities have equally positive results when plants and landscaping are added. These programs range from farm work to horticultural instruction and landscape design. In addition to providing vocational training, several behavior benefits have been documented. Although inmates might do violence to the buildings, they never destroy the plants they have grown. Working with plants lessened tensions, and effectively curbed tempers.

Schools are another setting where plants and landscaping have far-reaching positive effects. When implemented in schools with experiencing serious behavioral problems, landscaping again produced positive actions. The number of broken windows in the school reduced, children learned to enjoy and respect public spaces made for them and refrain from littering and writing graffiti.

The rehabilitative effect of landscaping, which produces self-esteem and enhanced emotional well-being comes out of the process itself. Lewis explains further.

The gardener takes on a responsibility when he grows a plant. It is a living entity, its future dependent on the gardener's ability to provide conditions for growth. Each day as he tends his garden, the gardener observes the growth of his plants, and sees in that a measure of his success in planting, watering, and fertilizing...He identifies with his garden and builds a personal relationship with its. The garden becomes an extension of himself, a highly visible representation of his individuality... All this enhances his self-image, helps to create self-esteem.

Plants have just begun to be utilized for a variety of purposes and are being evaluated for their environmental, sociological and psychological benefits, as well as many others. And, perhaps most importantly, plants in our interior and exterior living spaces are beginning to be viewed as a necessity for our lives.

Source: www.alca.org courtesy of PlantsAtWork.org