Play Deserts

KaBOOM! partners with city leaders to develop data-driven solutions that increase Playability — the extent to which a city makes it easy for all kids to get balanced and active play. As a benefit to select Playful City USA communities, KaBOOM! provides a tool to help identify areas where low-income children do not have accessible opportunities to play in their city — called Play Desert maps. To date, KaBOOM! has created dozens of citywide Play Desert maps and continues to add more every year.

What is a Play Desert map?

Play Desert maps are online, interactive maps that include the following information:

Playspace data is taken from our Map of Play website, which consists of quality controlled, crowdsourced playspace data, as well as data collected from KaBOOM! city partnerships.
Walking distance
A half mile is the maximum distance that should be considered walking distance. Barriers such as major roadways, lack of sidewalks, and other natural features can affect the accessibility of a play opportunity and are accounted for in a Play Desert map.
Density of children
Lack of play opportunities is clearly a greater problem in neighborhoods where there are more children.
Density of low-income households
We strive to ensure that ALL children have access to active and balanced play, particularly the 14 million children living in poverty. This data allows cities to explore the linkages between poverty and lack of access to play opportunities.
Race and ethnicity
This data allows cities to explore the linkages between race and ethnicity and availability of play opportunities.

Additional factors that create a Play Desert

As part of our city partnerships, we also work with cities to include custom data that best fits the city's goals and needs. A Play Desert map should ideally consider more than just demographics and walkable areas, so over the years KaBOOM! has also considered the following data:

  1. Playspace quality
  2. Crime rates
  3. Elevation
  4. Availability
  5. Obesity
  6. City amenities
  7. Child care facilities

You can help us with this work by identifying and assessing your neighborhood playspaces on our Map of Play.

Play Desert maps drive change

Play Desert maps drive action in cities and are a rational and effective way to help local, state and federal governments, school districts, foundations, and child-serving non-profits allocate resources in areas where they can have the highest impact to increase their city's Playability. Play Desert maps can lead to:

    1. Grants and other funding opportunities in Play Deserts.
    2. Improvement of existing playspaces that are in disrepair.
    3. Opening locked and inaccessible playspaces through shared-use agreements.
    4. Construction of new play infrastructure.
    5. Policies that increase Playability, such as mandatory recess.
    6. Child-specific programming and events, such as kid-friendly plays.
    7. Data driven decisions and informed conversations between cities and the public.

Ottawa, KS has been a Playful City USA community since 2010. After receiving their online Play Desert map in 2013, the Ottawa Play Taskforce used it to analyze and prioritize their gaps in amenities. Prior to receiving their map, the Taskforce had been focused on new and replacement projects and had not considered the geographic locations of Ottawa's parks. They have since incorporated their Play Desert map into their park master plan and have used this data to plan for three additional playspaces. As a channel to help share their success story to funders and apply for grants, Ottawa's Play Desert map became a useful tool for goal-setting and illustrating need to potential funders.

Pittsburgh, PA has been a Playful City USA community since 2011 and also received their online Play Desert map in 2013. The Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative, a group of committed individuals and organizations working to prioritize play in Pittsburgh, worked with KaBOOM! to learn more about their play opportunities. In addition to a traditional Play Desert map that focuses on playspaces, the Collaborative also requested an analysis of child care facility locations to examine play opportunities that children experience during their day. The child care analysis examined each facility's capacity for children, its quality, and whether it was within walking distance to a playspace. The Collaborative has used the map to start conversations with child care providers and city personnel to get the ball rolling on bringing outdoor playspaces to Downtown Pittsburgh and other areas in need of play.

Playspace types

Broadly speaking, a playspace is anywhere children and teens can play. Playspaces fall into four broad categories:


Playgrounds in the United States primarily serve specific age groups:

  • 2-5 years old: play structures are lower to the ground and easy to climb
  • 5-12 years old: play structures ideally are more challenging and engaging

Playgrounds are most often found in the following locations:

  • Public parks
  • Elementary schools
  • Child-serving non-profits
  • Religious grounds, such as churches and synagogues
  • Businesses
  • Housing complexes and subdivisions
  • Libraries
  • Museums

Sports facilities

Sports facilities, which include the following outdoor and indoor venues:

  • Baseball Diamond
  • Batting Cages
  • Ice Rink
  • Skate Park
  • Football Field
  • Track
  • Disc Golf
  • Horseshoe Pit
  • Volleyball
  • Tennis Court
  • Racquetball Court
  • Soccer Field
  • Roller Hockey
  • Swimming Pool
  • Shuffleboard

Sports facilities are most often found in the following locations:

  • Public parks
  • Middle and high schools
  • Child-serving non-profits
  • Religious grounds, such as churches and synagogues
  • Businesses
  • Housing complexes and subdivisions
  • Libraries
  • Museums

Parks and nature

  • Open green spaces
  • Forests
  • Trails (bike and foot)
  • Beaches
  • Rock climbing

Creative, Play Everywhere

  • Bus Stop Swings
  • Hopscotch crosswalks
  • Games in laundry mats