MI-YVPC awarded $6M to advance youth violence prevention work

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ANN ARBOR- The Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center has received $6 million from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention to continue its study of what happens when you restore physical environments that contribute to violence.

The Center, based at the U-M School of Public Health, will study how improving vacant properties in three U.S. cities affects violence, property crimes and intentional injuries among youth. The Center will focus on the effects of engaging residents, particularly youth, in caring for properties in their neighborhoods.

“It will allow us to test the greening hypothesis and busy streets theory (the latter a concept we developed), which suggests that if we take care of abandoned, empty lots in our inner cities, clean them up, and create space for positive social interaction, we can help create safer streets,” said Marc Zimmerman, professor of Health Behavior and Health Education and director of the center.

“This change occurs because people will interact in positive ways, develop greater connection and take pride in their neighborhoods, and, ultimately, because the community is empowered to ‘take back the streets.”

The three U.S. cities are Flint, MI, Youngstown, Ohio and Camden, NJ. The 5-year grant will fund the collaborative effort involving U-M School of Public Health, U-M Medical School, University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers University, Genesee County Land Bank in Flint, MI, Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership in Camden, NJ,  the Center for Community Progress,  economic development organizations, health departments, hospitals, police departments and community-based organizations in each city.

Center leaders say the transformation from a manufacturing economy to one based heavily on services and technology has resulted in a loss of population, and an increasing state of poverty among those who have stayed in cities. Blight and neglect, along with a lack of opportunities for youth and young adults, have resulted in accelerated levels of violence.

Zimmerman said research shows that the strategy of engaging youth in projects to improve their communities has proven more successful than many interventions focused on changing individual behavior.

“The idea of busy streets involves more people interacting in positive social ways. We focus on having adults and youth work together to create the busy street by cleaning lots, making a community garden, or making a play or relaxation space,” Zimmerman said.

One recent study by the same team of researchers related to the greening hypothesis revealed that residents in neighborhoods where vacant and abandoned lots were converted into community gardens were more likely to take better care of their nearby properties.

“Creating safe spaces for people, out of previously uncared for vacant properties, will increase positive social interaction, build neighborhood trust, and provide fewer places and, therefore, opportunities for bad things to happen,” Zimmerman said.

In addition to studying the influence of greening in the three cities, the center will survey more than 100 programs in 22 states to gain information about factors that facilitate or inhibit youth engagement in such projects.

Under a previous grant, the Center conducted research to explore the effect of multi-pronged approach to reduce youth violence in Flint and Genesee County.

For more information visit the Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center website: http://yvpc.sph.umich.edu/.