Richmond, Virginia has seen its share of hardship. The poverty rate is 25%. For kids alone, that number rises to nearly 40%. Though there are lots of opportunities for development, progress on solutions can be sluggish when city departments and organizations don't work collectively.
"All too often, well-intentioned community leaders and advocates work in silos, focusing on one area of impact without tapping the resources and expertise of their neighbors," said Ashley Hall, manager at the Capital Region Collaborative, an organization that brings together groups to enhance the quality of life in Greater Richmond. Ashley has found that even while living and working within mere miles of each other, collaboration and alignment are often a challenge.
Fortunately, there is one cause that's uniting people in Richmond: creating a more playful place to live.
"Play is something that resonates with everybody," said Jeff McIntyre, a director at Sports Backers, a non-profit that inspires Richmond residents to live actively. Through his work, Jeff has discovered that whether a group's focus is economic development, education, or most anything else, play is a cause that bridges the gap and brings departments, organizations, and citizens together.
Recently, Richmond has been more intentional about their efforts in play. They built ARCpark, an accessible playground that is open to the public. And they provide other playful opportunities available to all kids, including a basketball league with CarMax, a KaBOOM! National Partner.
These efforts were catalyzed last year, when Ashley and Jeff discovered Playful City USA, our recognition program honoring cities and towns that ensure all kids - particularly those in low-income communities - get the balanced and active play they need to thrive. The application process alone proved to be beneficial, as the duo were engaging in dialogue with Tamara Jenkins, recreation coordinator for the City of Richmond.
"The ability to reach out to counterparts and get new ideas is bringing more people into play and into their facilities and parks," said Tamara. "Being able to collaborate across the region now, there's no limit to the things we can do."
The Playful City USA honor was just the beginning.
Ashley, Jeff, and Tamara then learned about the Play Everywhere Challenge, a national grant competition led by KaBOOM! to transform everyday spaces into places for play. With the synergy they had already established working on the Playful City USA application, this cross-sector team felt emboldened to recruit others in the community to enter the competition.
They ultimately collaborated with Virginia Commonwealth University's da Vinci Center to create Upswing, retractable jump ropes and sidewalk play in front of barber shops in low-income neighborhoods. The grant proposal was funded, and the project even landed Richmond a spot in the New York Times.
The City is continuing to feel the momentum of their Playful City USA designation. They're now working with several other municipalities in the area in an effort to earn them the same recognition. Through the process, employees are transcending their roles at a particular government agency, business, or non-profit, and are collaborating as neighbors to bring play to all kids in Greater Richmond.
Playability is gaining momentum and decision makers are embracing playability.
Over 80% of the population lives in urban areas, with the percentage of kids even higher. Akin to walkability and bikeability, playability is the extent to which cities make it easy for all kids to get the balanced and active play they need to thrive. Cities are increasingly recognizing that play can be part of the solution to the challenges that they already prioritize. Cities are also becoming hotbeds of innovation, and this innovation has the potential to increase playability. Playability looks different in each community, such as extending the school day to enable all kids to get recess and PE, shutting down streets in low-income neighborhoods to let kids play and increase foot traffic for local merchants, or redesigning the town square for the benefit of kids and families.
Since we first coined the term in March 2014, various thought leaders and national media outlets focused on cities, corporations and consumers have picked up on the trend of playability in cities. These though leaders and media outlets are spreading the work about what cities are doing to enable more opportunities to play and how important this is for the health of kids and communities. To help accelerate the trend, we convened twelve leading 2014 PUCSA cities at a Leaders Summit last fall. These cities developed big ideas for addressing their own city-wide challenges (from childhood hunger to use of non-motorized transportation to attracting and retaining families) by using play. These cities continue to tackle some of their biggest challenges by increasing playability.
Some cities are leveraging existing large-scale institutions to achieve playability. Chicago has implemented the Chicago Plays! program to bring play to every kid. The mission of the program is for every kid to be within a seven to ten minute walk of a park or playground. In the past 5 years, the city has refurbished or built 325 playgrounds, investing $37.5 million for the kids of Chicago. Chicago has also provided Spaces to Grow, transforming 34 schoolyards into active spaces for the community. These schoolyards prioritize active play, outdoor learning, exploration, and community engagement. Through Chicago Plays!, the city aims to build 26 additional playgrounds at schools where there is no playground or where the current playground is unsafe or outdated. The city has also implemented a 30+20+10 policy in 54 schools where elementary school students receive 30 minutes of PE, 20 minutes of recess and 10 minutes of playful active classroom activities each day. Chicago Public Libraries are working to make the children's section of each library a play area that facilitates learning and engagement.
Other cities are embracing playability by instituting new city-wide policies and allocating funds to these initiatives. These policies can increase playability in neighborhoods throughout the city. Bismarck, North Dakota has a new policy that will require play in all new developments. The Bismarck Parks and Recreation Department, in conjunction with local developers and the City of Bismarck will actively enforce the new policy that obligates a neighborhood park be placed in every new development. The policy and ordinance will allow for parks to be developed with a playground, shelter, and loop trail. This policy strives to provide a place to play within a half mile of every resident in new developments.
Another city-wide approach to increase playability is through public financing of kid-friendly arts projects. The Charlotte, NC City Council has adopted a new ordinance that appropriates 1 percent of eligible capital improvement project funds for public art to enhance public spaces. This playful art can be seen along every stop on the Lynx Light Rail, in the Arts District of North Davidson Street and throughout Center City. Charlotte also offers unique art experiences such as the Arts & Science Council "Finding your Part in Public Art" scavenger hunt.
Cities can improve the quality of life of all residents by embracing playability.
As cities embrace and implement playability, we need to ensure that play is used to address inequity. Playability needs to avoid the pitfalls of the walking and biking movements, which have been positioned as a competitive advantage for cities to attract and retain the creative class, particularly young, college-educated professionals. All families deserve to live in safe communities with ample job opportunities, affordable housing, great schools, and abundant opportunities to play. There is currently inequitable distribution of services, resources, and opportunities for low-income families, and cities need to be mindful that opportunities to play do not become yet one more inequitably-distributed asset.
Some cities are finding creative ways to ensure that their poorest kids have access to play despite economic constraints. In the economically distressed community of Flint, MI -- 58% of all Flint youth live in poverty -- the budget for the Flint School District does not include providing extracurricular activities like physical education time for kids to play. Because the city values its kids, a public-private partnership that includes a diverse group of community partners has emerged to fill this gap.
For example, the Crim Fitness Foundation hosts lunchtime activity programs and the Chamber of Commerce hosts after school programs that incorporate dinner, active play, and music lessons. These programs allow students access to muscle-building, mind-expanding, friend-making play that would not otherwise be possible. And much more is in the works. The Flint Public Arts project in the north side of Flint – one of the city's poorest areas -- is connecting artists with residents to help them re-imagine their neighborhoods. Kids in one neighborhood told project artists that they would like to have a skate park on the site of a demolished house. Within a few weeks the artists and kids together created an art installation which represented the skate park that they are working to bring to fruition.
Our behavioral research told us that proximity to play matters. When parks and playgrounds are a bus ride away, they become special-occasion locations. Cities need to offer right-around-the-corner options, and some cities are finding ways to bring play opportunities that exist in other areas of the city into low-income neighborhoods. After attending the Playful City Leaders Summit last fall, Brownsville, TX extended its popular health and wellness CycloBia events into underserved and vulnerable areas as Cyclobia2U. CycloBia is modeled after the cyclovias popularized in Bogota, Colombia, where streets are closed down for the exclusive use of pedestrians, cyclists and kids and families who want to play. CycloBia2U are held in the greatest areas of need in the city eight times a year, yielding safer streets, opportunities to play, and improved economic vitality. CycloBia2U made its debut on March 22 in one of Brownsville's poorest areas. This is particularly impactful in a city ranked the poorest metropolitan area in the nation.
Columbus, GA saw an opportunity to improve neighborhood safety and cohesion by providing places for recreation and play. The city had had a robust network of recreation and community centers since the 1950s in neighborhoods around the city that offered opportunities for kids and adults to be active, get together and play. Due to budgetary constraints, in the early 2000s the city decided to close many of the smaller neighborhood recreation centers and shift funds to four large "Super Center" facilities located in the four corners of the city. Unfortunately, what resulted was an increase in crime in the impoverished neighborhoods that no longer had operating recreation centers. Seeing this problem, the city decided to bring play back to some of these neglected neighborhoods by providing funds through a Crime Prevention grant program to reopen closed recreation centers. The first of these facilities -- the Boxwood Recreation Center -- in a high-crime area that lacked recreational play was renovated and reopened to provide programming activities and play opportunities for local kids. It has provided a place for kids to be safe, learn and have fun. Due to the success of Boxwood, two other closed recreation centers are currently preparing to reopen and provide more recreational opportunities for kids and families in those neighborhoods.
Playability is a competitive advantage.
Play provides a competitive advantage for cities by developing healthy kids and thriving communities. Beyond the social benefits of play – kids living within 1 kilometer of a park or playground are almost five times more likely to be of a healthy weight than kids without playgrounds in nearby parks; play helps kids become more creative as it encourages recombining ideas, making associations, and transforming objects; play can be a protective barrier against toxic stress for kids experiencing extreme adversity; etc. – communities benefit from attracting and retaining families across the socio-economic spectrum who pay taxes, attract businesses, and care about the health and vitality of their community. The average income for householders from ages 35 to 44 is 28% higher than for those ages 25 to 34, and they are more engaged in their communities. Open spaces such as parks and recreation areas can also have a positive effect on nearby residential property values, and can lead to increased economic vitality through proportionately higher property tax revenues for local governments.
Cities are increasingly embracing playability as a competitive advantage. Greenville, SC understands that increasing play opportunities for kids contributes to the city being consistently ranked as a great place to work and live. Greenville combines infrastructure and innovative play everywhere ideas to foster playability. The city has a robust park system with 40 playgrounds, and addresses play deserts -- areas of the city without access to play infrastructure -- with programming. Examples of city-wide programming include Mobi-Rec, a box truck stocked with games and activities; Play Streets, a program that blocks the street for activities such as an art mural to be completed by the children, basketball goals, and bounce houses; and Park Hop a summer-long scavenger hunt that encourages participants to visit local playspaces. With one of the fastest growing populations in the state with a 3.8% growth since 2010, nville is clearly doing something right.
Other cities are building vast public-private partnerships to demonstrate a commitment to kids and families. The Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative has launched several initiatives such as Kidsburgh, an online clearing house of resources about activities and programming for children and families; and the Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative Ultimate Play Day, a daylong celebration for the Pittsburgh community to learn about and engage in play. These play focused initiatives are helping Pittsburgh reverse the trend of young families moving out of the city. Mayor Peduto has a goal of attracting 20,000 residents back to Pittsburgh by 2024, and says he "recognizes the value that play has for the city's health and economic vitality."
The Collaborative is comprised of member organizations representing city government, philanthropy, educators, museums, healthcare, and parks that are dedicated to advancing the importance of play in the lives of children, families, and communities.
Mayor Rawlings Blake of Baltimore, MD believes that "to grow Baltimore by 10,000 families" there must be a commitment to "building a city that is even more family friendly." The city is exploring new and original approaches in order to retain current residents and attract new ones, including providing them with opportunities to play that help them grow and develop as individuals and build community. One such approach includes a thought shift around the use of the city's vacant properties. Power in Dirt is a city initiative that significantly reduced government barriers and created new incentives for residents to adopt vacant lots and transform them into spaces that meet their needs. In the initiative's first two years, more than 1,000 vacant lots were adopted. Residents found multiple uses for their adopted land, from open community gathering areas to highly specific uses like a horseshoe playing pit.
Cities are providing play everywhere as a part of beginning to set the standard of playability
To inspire cities to overcome behavioral bottlenecks that keep kids from getting the play they need to thrive, we conducted research with ideas42, a non-profit organization that uses behavioral science to create scalable solutions to societal challenges. We examined how cities can ensure that all kids get the balanced and active play they need to thrive. This research revealed that to change behavior, cities need to make play the easy, default choice. Kids -- especially those growing up in poverty -- spend a disproportionate amount of time with adults running errands or taking care of daily necessities. This results in excessive down time where kids exist in a "dead space." The solution is for cities to put play everywhere, integrating play into this dead space. Play everywhere means integrating play in routine time and space where low-income families and kids spend time, turning moments of frustration into moments of joy. Cities are reimagining how everything from sidewalks and bus stops to grocery stores, laundromats and health clinics can be filled with play, making it easier for families to prioritize play for their kids.
Leading cities are taking comprehensive actions to bring play near all their residents. Ottawa, KS painted 40 hopscotch courses throughout its neighborhoods to promote fun and active play with the Hoppin' Ottawa Campaign. Hopscotch courses can be found everywhere -- downtown, in public spaces (city hall, schools, hospitals), in retail businesses and on trails. The city also installed three Play Pods – small, innovative play structures made of recycled tires -- on the Prairie Spirit Trail through several lower income neighborhoods that don't have a park or playground within walking distance. The city plans to add more pods in the future in other locations, and neighboring towns have expressed interest in replicating the idea in their communities. These comprehensive actions were achieved by a Play Task Force of city officials and community leaders focused on improving health and welfare of the community through play.
Other cities are providing opportunities for active and imaginative play in places where people are normally sedentary. Playwalks in Thomasville, NC will incorporate active play such as hopscotch, balancing lines, shape hops, and other activities at bus stops, waiting areas and along ordinary sidewalks and trails to make them more kid-friendly.
The York, PA Bring On Play committee has a "Play Everywhere" subcommittee focused on creating replicable, sustainable, environmental changes to increase play opportunities throughout the city. The subcommittee's first infrastructure investment is coming soon -- a bus shelter that hosts bike parking spaces and an area for play activities. This initial effort will serve as a model for future shelters throughout the city.
The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum (GRCM) celebrates childhood and the joy of learning by providing an interactive, hands-on environment that inspires learning and encourages self-directed exploration. In the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., a Playful City USA community, the GRCM has celebrated 16 years of play with over 2 million guests. Enjoy this guest blog post from the GRCM.
Play is an essential part of life—specifically unguided, open-ended, free play. The kind of play that has no right or wrong answer: creativity and imagination without a specific end product. In other words, play for play’s sake.
The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum (GRCM), located in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., is committed to play and part of that commitment is giving our guests, adults as well as children, permission to play.
Perhaps nothing demonstrates this idea more than the museum’s most unique exhibit: our staff.
Our floor staff, or Facilitators do not direct play; they do not give specific instructions, but invite our guests, adult and child alike, to play with them. They facilitate play by asking open-ended questions (“What are you making?”), engaging in parallel play (playing along-side or near a child in a similar activity, but not directly with the child until they invite the staff member to join), or by simply asking if they can help with what the child is creating. This not only leads to very unique creations but also demonstrates some simple ways to continue playing at home.
When the GRCM celebrated our 15th anniversary last year, we were fortunate to be able to share a new exhibit, Imagination Playground™, with the community. No other exhibit illustrates the concept of open-ended play as well as Imagination Playground™. It’s a wonderful catalyst for collaboration. Parents and teachers immerse themselves in the creative experience with the children (and our staff).
We often joke that our Facilitators have enjoyed Imagination Playground™ even more than our guests. Nearly every day, the office receives a call inviting the administrative team to come and see a new creation—a fort, a throne, a robot, a boat or two-story ball run—that the Facilitators and guests have made together. More recently, we were able to borrow a Rigamajig (formerly Workyard Kit), which is very similar to a large Erector Set, and were happy to see some even more elaborate creations.
While we continue to provide a number of experiences and exhibits that would be difficult to replicate at home, one thing we do try to impart on our guests is how easy it is to play. In February 2013, GRCM launched a “What Can You Do With a Spoon?” campaign (see video below) to get people thinking about ways to play, even with items that normally wouldn’t be thought of as toys, and demonstrate how easy it can be to include some play every day.
The enthusiasm and imagination of our staff inspires play. It invites museum guests of all ages to join in the fun, letting them share in the joy of making a giant bubble, the excitement of showing off a Lego airplane, the thrill of putting on a fire-fighter helmet and piloting a helicopter. But we strive for more than having fun while visiting the museum. We hope that their experience here carries over into their play at home and that they allow the kids in their lives to guide the activity. That they remember to ask open-ended questions like “What are you building?” “What are drawing?” We hope that our guests take with them the idea that play really is for everyone and that everyone, regardless of age, should take time every day to enjoy some play. You have our permission.
For the first time, municipal and thought leaders from around the country gathered to chart a path to make sure that all kids get the play they need to thrive. Representatives from 53 cities, 30 states, and three countries came together at the inaugural Playful City USA Leaders' Summit, hosted by KaBOOM! and sponsored by the Humana Foundation, to declare loud and clear that they value play. The nearly 200 participants rolled up their sleeves and spent an intense two days on an issue that—thanks to the efforts of many at the summit—is gaining increasing attention.
Participants engaged with an impressive list of speakers and presenters, including Secretaries Kathleen Sebelius and Arne Duncan, journalist Cokie Roberts, Walter Isaacson, author of the best-selling biography Steve Jobs, and 12 mayors, about how play contributes to positive outcomes for children and communities. From building 21st century workforce skills, to reversing the trend in childhood obesity rates, to renewing urban areas, investing in play is an investment in our future.
"Cities are critical when it comes to achieving play-related outcomes because most play-focused infrastructure investment, policies, and programming happen at the local level," said Darell Hammond, Founder and CEO of KaBOOM!. "That's why KaBOOM! created the Playful City USA program in 2007 to recognize municipalities who are prioritizing play. It was great to have many of our Playful City USA communities at our inaugural summit."
"At Humana, we believe in making fun things healthy and healthy things fun. The Humana Foundation is proud to be the official sponsor of the KaBOOM! Playful City USA Leaders' Summit, working hand in hand with those on the front lines of our nation' cities to create safe places for people of all ages to live and play together," said Virginia Kelly Judd, Executive Director, Humana Foundation.
In closing remarks, best-selling author Wes Moore aptly said, "This is about more than playgrounds, monkey bars, and trampolines. It's about our children." The audience rose in thunderous applause and we couldn't agree more. The summit made clear that there is a growing movement to give all children the childhood they deserve by ensuring they get the active play they need to thrive.
The 2013 Playful City USA Leaders’ Summit: Investing in Children Through Play, sponsored by the Humana Foundation, is coming up on Sept. 23!
This invitation-only summit will bring together city, non-profit, foundation, business and national thought leaders from across the country to advance our collective efforts to ensure that all children get the play that they need to become healthy and successful adults. As the national platform for making play a priority in our communities, summit attendees will be inspired and challenged by preeminent leaders and will build strong networks with peers from across the country that enable cities to be transformed through play.
The summit will feature 11 Team Cities from across the country. The representatives from the Team Cities are doing some of the most innovative work to advance the cause of play in their communities. These communities take unique approaches to engaging partners to implement play agendas that give kids the childhood they deserve. Click here to learn more about our Team Cities.
Speakers include The Honorable Arne Duncan; The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius; Wes Moore, Host of Beyond Belief; and many more. Click here for a complete list of speakers.
Track and join the conversation at #playsummit.
If every community had a "Play Lady" like Pat Rumbaugh, a lot more kids would be getting the daily active play they need. But at the very least, every community can now get a copy of her upcoming book. Let's Play at the Playground is an early reader that will inspire kids and adults alike to go out and play.
As Dr. Stuart L. Brown, Founder and President of The National Institute for Play, puts it, "This joyously pictorial panorama of playground play lifts one's spirit. Its compelling pictures capture the joy of spontaneous play, and evokes the momentum for a lifetime of healthy play, sharing and cooperation."
Pat Rumbaugh, a former physical education teacher, lives in Takoma Park, Md. In March 2009, she founded Takoma Plays, an organization dedicated to promoting play and planning free play events for the community. Thanks to Pat's tireless efforts, KaBOOM! has named Takoma Park a Playful City USA community for four years running.
Let's Play at the Playground is photographed by Daniel Nakamura, a Maryland dad, play advocate, and owner of Booth-o-Rama Photobooths. Pat and Daniel are joining forces to extend the impact of their book by co-founding Let's Play America, an organization that aims to encourage and facilitate efforts like Takoma Plays in cities and towns across the country.
Ready to play? Reserve your autographed copy of Let's Play at the Playground today!
Wanda Cheeks wants to give children the promise of happy memories at the park—memories she never had. When she was 12, she was kidnapped, assaulted and abandoned near Irwin Park in Spartanburg, S.C. She went on to become a teen mom, burdened with adult responsibilities before fully becoming an adult.
Despite—or maybe in part because of—her troubled childhood, she has dedicated her life to making sure that thousands of children in Spartanburg have a safe place to play. Says Wanda, “I believe that playing is the most important action that a child can do.”
In 2003, she founded Southside Unity in the Community (SSUITC), a nonprofit that promotes volunteerism while providing opportunities for at-risk children. Her first mission was to build a new playground. Though she had once vowed never to return to Irwin Park, with guidance from KaBOOM! and funding from The Home Depot Foundation, Wanda ended up leading hundreds of volunteers in the construction of a new playground there.
Wanda says, “Nobody thought they had the power to be a part of change like that. They thought it was always the city job, the school job, the job of the property manager… They realize they have a voice. I see a lot more people getting involved, taking the roles, stepping up. I’m very proud of those people in my community and I love to see them grow.”
And that was just the beginning. Wanda went on to plan another community-wide playground build at Spartanburg Charter School and helped lead substantial renovations to Priscilla Rumley Park. She also campaigned for Spartanburg to achieve Playful City USA status, and because of her tireless efforts, the city has been named a Playful City USA community for six consecutive years.
“I eat, sleep, and drink playgrounds,” Wanda says. “I never thought blisters could make my heart feel so good!”
Wanda has helped bring play to other southern cities, building seven other playgrounds with KaBOOM! in Atlanta, Charlotte, New Orleans, Orlando, and Washington, DC. She is now back in Spartanburg utilizing our DIY tools on Our Dream Playground to help plan the construction of St. Paul Community Park, which will be accessible to children of all ages and abilities, provide recreation for the elderly, and host community and family events.
Through her tireless efforts, Wanda has become a role model in her community, even winning the 2012 Mary L. Thomas Award for Civic Leadership and Community Change. Community leader Susu Johnson says, “Wanda is a force. One of the things I admire about her is that she doesn’t give up. She has had insurmountable odds that she has surmounted.”
It’s not a life course that Wanda expected, but she has learned to embrace it. “Being a menace as a child and thinking that you have no future or mean anything to anybody,” she says, “and then just seeing the whole world at [my] feet saying what do you want to do Wanda? [That’s when] I saw that I was a leader.”
Photo and video provided by The Spartanburg County Foundation.
by Paula Jenkins
I’ve been a teacher for 21 years. And through my work, I’ve seen the Play Deficit first hand.
Since I began teaching, the number of hours kids spend outside playing has plummeted. Kids are spending more and more time behind TV and computer screens. And equipment like swings are being pulled from school playgrounds because they are considered "too dangerous."
We can’t let the Play Deficit hurt our children. We must let them play.
Play is crucial to healthy social, emotional, and cognitive development. Every day, I see kids learning important lessons on the playground. And I’m sure you can understand how grateful I am when they return to class calm and focused after running around with their friends.
Please join me and other educators and help KaBOOM! fight the Play Deficit. Be a part of their Spring Donor Drive and your gift will be matched dollar for dollar by the A. L. Mailman Foundation.
Right now, their goal is 365 donors to help KaBOOM! support a 50-state attack on the Play Deficit by helping:
Investing in children is investing in all our futures. Please help and let them play everyday.
"Healthy communities offer safe and equitable playspaces for all residents. In 2009, I founded the GoPlay Initiative which integrates community-wide resources to create playful living opportunities and inspire a spirit of discovery. The campaign included school educators, community volunteers, and local organizations that joined together to build an innovative playground for over 1,000 third, fourth, and fifth grade students in the Starkville School District.
While Starkville leaders believed in the value of play it was the KaBOOM! Playful City USA program that provided the needed spark to make play a city wide priority. Leaders representing the city of Starkville, Parks Commission, Starkville School District, civic organizations, and local businesses joined efforts in the spring of 2011 to set tangible goals for investing in play. Organized as the Starkville Play Task Force, our team continues to work towards the action plan goals we have set for the entire community.
Drafted by Play Task Force members, the Starkville School Board and Board of Alderman passed a shared use agreement contract in October of 2011. Now the public has access to Starkville school playgrounds and the school district has additional city resources to maintain and improve neighborhood playspaces. The Playful City USA recognition has brought public and private entities together to build a better, more playful Starkville. The KaBOOM! organization not only provides useful resources but also inspiration to continue as a play advocate in Mississippi."
– Heather Carson, Starkville, MS
Play it forward with a donation to help make more cities playful like Starkville, MS.
As we look back on the KaBOOM! 15th birthday year, it is hard not to feel pride in all that we – the broader KaBOOM! community – have accomplished toward realizing our vision of a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America.
Together we have built 2,072 playgrounds empowering communities across North America to come together for the greater good. We have taken all of our knowledge and made it available – for free – so people can self-organize and build playgrounds at a much faster pace than we can alone, while also building local skills, capacity and social capitol.
We have mapped 89,145 playgrounds in our effort to create a nationwide Map of Play, which will in turn illuminate Play Deserts, allowing us to use our resources even more strategically to serve those communities most in need. To that end, we created a mobile app, Playgrounds!, to make it easier for you to add to our Map of Play and find great places to play in your neighborhood.
We recognized 151 Playful City USA honorees across the country for their efforts to make their cities more playful. And, with your support, my book, KaBOOM!: How One Man Built a Movement to Save Play, was #4 on the NY Times Bestseller list, enrolling more communities, mayors, teachers and parents in the movement to save play.
With so much to celebrate, it’s easy to get lost in the excitement. But we must not forget that KaBOOM! was founded out of a tragedy – the lost lives of Iyesha and Clendon, who suffocated to death while playing in an abandoned car because they didn’t have a safe place to play. That story, as reported in the Washington Post, inspired me to bring people together and do something: build a playground.
This year, we turned another tragedy into hope in Phil Campbell, Ala., whose town was nearly destroyed by the largest tornado in Alabama history. Twenty-six people were killed including two students and a teacher from Phil Campbell Elementary School. Along with homes and businesses, their only playground was shredded by winds reaching over 210 MPH. Residents from Phil Campbell are still struggling to put their lives back together, but on December 17th they got a new playground, thanks to support from Disney, and two Imagination Playground™ in a Box™ sets, thanks to the generosity of donors from across the country.
Our mission to help communities build playgrounds is also driven by the fact that outdoor play is critical to the health and well-being of our children, yet today's kids have fewer opportunities and less time to play than any previous generation.
As we look ahead to the next 15 years, we must recommit to and act on behalf of Iesha and Clendon and all of the children in our lives to ensure that they have a great place to play and that play is prioritized at home and in school. Whether that means organizing a playground build in your neighborhood, joining our online community on Facebook or donating to our broader efforts, make a resolution to help advance the cause of play.
Oh, and don’t forget to have some fun along the way!
Founder and CEO, KaBOOM!