Studies at the University of Washington and elsewhere have documented that neighborhoods with cared-for green spaces have lower crime rates and the people nearby suffer less domestic strife and endure less stress. In cities from New York to Detroit, Chicago to Atlanta, we've seen how community gardens turn abandoned lots that attract trash and trouble--into peaceful oases where anyone can relax in the fresh air and sunshine, and get a respite from urban life.
I've heard about these studies before and am curious about the correlation between lower crime rates and community gardens. But it's strange to me that everyone seems to conclude from this research that community gardens cause lower crime rates and less domestic strife. I guess it could be true. Gardening is a great stress reliever, creative outlet, escape from other problems in your life, and source of pride and a sense of ownership. But it seems just as likely that whatever factors are in place to make a community garden possible in that neighborhood are also causing changes in crime and domestic strife rates.
Starting and maintaining a community garden takes a lot of work and organizing. If you had never done something like that before, you would learn a lot about working with (or getting around) city officials, recruiting help and support from neighbors, being inclusive and considerate, etc. And some of these skills turn out to be exactly the kind of skills you would need to organize your neighbors to bring about other changes in your community. It would also get you talking to each other, and bring people out of their houses and into a common space. I suspect that having a few motivated individuals in your neighborhood who take the initiative start a project like this is probably the real cause of the other changes observed.
And it seems like it would snowball. Getting the garden going would require cooperation and organization on the part of some, and the beginnings of the project would attract more attention, and get more people involved and talking to each other, and the improvement in the space would become a source of pride and bestow a sense of accomplishment, which would draw in more people and produce more motivation, etc. And having a sense of place and an increased degree of control over your environment is empowerfulizing. And working in the garden is kind of therapeutic. So it seems to me that the more fruitful direction to take this is to examine the conditions that make it possible for communities to establish a community garden, and to try to generate those conditions and nurture the fledgling movements that emerge.