Detroit Vacant Lot Reuse (DVLR)

A photo of four people holding trays of produce in a small farm field.

Project Details


The Detroit Vacant Lot Reuse study (DVLR) is a three-year-long observational study to understand the effects of community-engaged vacant lot reuse on rates of firearm-related injury and violence within Detroit, MI.


A growing body of research indicates the protective effects of vacant lot reuse and greening projects (e.g., urban agriculture, green stormwater infrastructure, creative placemaking) on health outcomes. For instance, living in close proximity to parks and green spaces has been demonstrated to improve mental and physical health, improve perceptions of safety, and promote social cohesion. Our study builds on recent research indicating the protective effects of greening and reuse extend to injury and violent crime prevention, including reductions in firearms violence.

The DVLR study is guided by Busy Streets Theory (BST), which suggests that when neighborhood residents and community members participate in the transformation of vacant properties into well-maintained, inviting spaces, they send a message that people care about the community and built environment. Reuse projects have the potential to promote social interaction, collective efficacy, and empowerment. In turn, these factors help deter violent crime and increase safe living environments. Our study is focused on further understanding the mechanisms by which different forms of vacant lot reuse lead to reductions in firearm-related injury and violence, specifically.

Study Context

Across the U.S., rates of firearm homicide are 90% higher in urban centers compared to rural counties. Additionally, evidence indicates communities with higher rates of vacancy experience disproportionately high rates of violent crimes and firearm violence. Our proposed study takes place in Detroit, a city with seven times the national average of firearms-related homicide, indicating an urgent need for interventions to decrease firearm violence. Our study also leverages the extensive vacant lot reuse strategies already occurring on Detroit’s more than 24 square miles of vacant land, with varied repurposing approaches and levels of community engagement.

Conceptual Framework

As illustrated by the conceptual model below, our study hypothesizes that vacant lot reuse will decrease firearm incidents in their respective neighborhoods, and sites with higher levels of community- and resident-driven planning, implementation, and maintenance will be even more effective in reducing firearm violence.

DVLR Conceptual Model
DVLR Conceptual Model (click for larger image)

The specific aims of the study are to:

  • Aim 1: Examine the effect of different types of vacant lot reuse projects (n=200) on total firearm crime incidents and injury over time.
  • Aim 2: Examine how the level of community engagement in the vacant lot reuse projects may enhance the effects of lot reuse on firearm crime incidents.
  • Aim 3: Conduct in-depth case studies of 12 vacant lot reuse sites and their effect on firearm outcomes and community engagement to identify facilitating factors and barriers to effective reuse.