Indianapolis Vacant Lot Reuse & Community Violence Prevention Study (IVLR)

Indianapolis Vacant Lot Reuse Study (IVLR) featured image. Before and after photo of a new pocket park.

Project Details


The Indianapolis Vacant Lot Reuse study (IVLR) is a three-year-long observational study. The project goal is to understand the effects of community-engaged vacant lot reuse on violence-related outcomes in Indianapolis, IN.


Research shows that turning empty lots into functional spaces (e.g., urban agriculture, parks, playgrounds, art installations) can make people healthier and safer. For example, living near a park or green space has been shown to improve mental and physical health, and make neighborhoods feel more welcoming and protected. The IVLR study expands on recent findings that show the benefits of revitalizing and greening vacant lots go beyond just improving the environment; they also help in reducing injuries and violent crimes, particularly incidents involving firearms.

The IVLR study is shaped by Busy Streets Theory (BST), which suggests that when people in a neighborhood help turn an empty or blighted lot into an appealing place, they demonstrate care for their community. Land revitalization projects can promote social activity and empower individuals to work together, which can improve neighborhood safety and deter violent crime. We aim to explore the ways in which different forms of vacant lot reuse lead to reductions in firearm-related injury and violence.

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 study takes place in Indianapolis, a city with five times the national rate of violent crime. We aim to study the extensive vacant lot reuse approaches already taking place in Indianapolis.

Keep Indianapolis Beautiful

The IVLR study is conducted in partnership with Keep Indianapolis Beautiful (KIB), a nonprofit organization founded in Indianapolis in 1976. For the past 40 years, they have partnered with community organizations, neighbors, and volunteers to beautify and enhance Indianapolis. Their mission is to create vibrant public spaces engaging the diverse communities of Indianapolis to help people and nature thrive.

KIB has successfully implemented a range of environmental initiatives, including Project GreenSpace, which will be the primary focus of our research. Project GreenSpace is a program that transforms vacant or underutilized lots into beautiful and vibrant community spaces, such as parks, gardens, or outdoor classrooms. They offer aid to individuals or groups within the community working on revitalizing these spaces. This aid includes financial support, design expertise, and labor, thereby enabling the community to reshape their neighborhoods. We will work closely with KIB’s GreenSpace Program Director and GreenSpace Sustainability Manager to populate GreenSpace project data.

Conceptual Framework & Study Aims

The conceptual model below depicts our study’s hypothesis: revitalizing vacant lots reduces the incidence of violent crimes nearby, particularly those involving a firearm, and projects that are planned, implemented, and maintained by local residents will have a greater effect on lowering crime rates.

Conceptual model for the IVLR project.The specific aims of the study are to:

  • Aim 1: Examine the short-term effect of vacant lot reuse projects on total violent crime incidents and injury and how the level of community engagement modifies the effect.
  • Aim 2: Examine the long-term effect of vacant lot reuse projects on total violent crime incidents and injury in the short term and how the level of community engagement modifies the effect.
  • 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.