February 04, 2010

Play Matters Highlight: Tucson

With the release of Play Matters, our new study of best practices to inform local policy and process in support of children’s play, we wanted to start sharing excerpts to highlight these great activities.

Take a look at the Joint-Use Agreements with Tucson Unified School District.

Tucson, Arizona, has a park space deficit. The city averages 6.2 acres of park per 1,000 residents, which is about half the national average. It is the nation’s lowest ranking city when it comes to available park land among low-population-density cities. At the same time, Tucson’s population is steadily increasing. This is especially true in the youth demographic. From 2000 to 2005, there was an increase of 10,000 residents in Tucson under age 18.

The rapid population growth combined with an existing park deficit has led to “a critical need to add to the existing parks and open space,” according to the city’s Parks and Recreation Ten-Year Strategic Plan. Focusing on this deficit, Tucson set a goal that every resident live within a half mile of a park or play space. The city also agreed to conduct a play space audit to survey available play spaces and determine areas in need of development.

Despite the schools’ decision to restrict after-hours access, fields and playgrounds were heavily used at nights, on weekends, and during the summer without explicit permission.

“We have over 100 elementary, middle, and high school campuses with grass fields—but they’re surrounded by chain link fences and closed after 3 p.m., on weekends, and all summer long,” says Councilman Rodney Glassman. “My goal was to leverage the community resources that already existed and provide the opportunity for neighbors to enjoy them.” He presented the idea of creating joint-use agreements between the city and Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) to open these spaces to the community after school hours.

Under the plan, TUSD would continue to be responsible for maintenance and upgrade costs at all school playgrounds and fields throughout the school year. The city would then take over maintenance and equipment costs during summer months when school was not in session. In exchange, the schools would open gates or take down fences and make these spaces available to the public after school hours and on weekends.

In June of 2008, 12 neighborhood elementary schoolyards opened for the summer season.

Tucson’s case study can be read in full here (pdf).

Learn more about Play Matters and download other sections.

This article originally appeared in Play Times, the monthly newsletter of the KaBOOM! Playmaker program. You can sign up here!

the buzz in play, play matters, tucson, schools, arizona, inspiration