Nature in Urban and Exurban settings as violence prevention and trauma relief

Presenter: Suzanne Malec-McKenna, Ph.D.

Authors: A. Johnson, S. Malec-McKenna

Chicago – considered the “Violence Capital of the U.S.” – will see nearly 450 homicides by year’s end. This represents nearly four times the per capita homicides of NY and LA combined. 92% of Chicago’s homicides result from shootings. Additionally, more than 2,000 people are wounded – the number wounded growing as homicide numbers reduce due to the construction of new trauma centers near the areas of most violence. Nature, as broadly understood in urban settings, can often be perceived as either landscapes that are unkept or dangerous (published and anecdotal data, Chicago Park District historical reports). Greencorps Chicago is a job training program which works with young men (18-30) at risk of or in the justice system, chronically homeless and/or underemployed or have exited drug rehabilitation. While this program includes substantial social emotional learning (SEL) in addition to technical horticultural and construction training, anecdotal reports suggest the most healing and supportive efforts are through outdoor hands-on experience in ornamental and working landscape installation and maintenance. Besides working in local forest preserves, municipal and state parks, trainees spend one week in Shawnee National Forest in Southern IL. Approximately 85% of Greencorps trainees come from and still live in Chicago’s highest crime and underserved communities. Greencorps serves as a transition point towards employment and also an opportunity to learn about – and embrace – the natural world not only for beauty, but also its healing and personal agency and pride-building properties. Studies in progress will compare recidivism rates of Greencorps to other “at risk” cohorts in addition to the use of the Developmental Asset Profile tool to assess participant response to exposure in various natural settings.

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