New Study Reveals Cities Must Become More “Playable” to Compete and to Improve Societal Conditions for all Residents Link copied!

October 24, 2014

Chicago, IL

Today, attendees at the Playful City USA Leaders Summit in Chicago were the first to hear the findings of new research from KaBOOM! and behavioral economics research firm ideas42 that shows cities must become more playable to ensure that all kids across every socio-economic background are getting the balanced and active play they need to thrive.

This study comes at a critical time for the wellbeing of our society and children; kids are playing less actively than any previous generations as a result of barriers that include things like reduced access to safe playspaces and diminished recess time, and also often overlooked physiological and behavioral barriers that keep kids from playing more. Serious implications which may stem from the lack of diverse play options available city-wide include increased toxic stress, depression, soaring obesity rates, lagging test scores, and staggering healthcare costs.

The white paper identifies three behavior bottlenecks that prevent kids from getting balanced and active play:

  1. Play lacks a moment of choice: Kids today have many activities that occur at specific times – school, meals, TV shows, etc.—but play isn’t usually a planned event, and that means parents and caregivers (and kids) may not even think about play. Or, if they do, the timing is wrong – they’re passing a playground on the way to a doctor’s appointment, or coming home for dinner after a long day.
  2. Play has no feedback mechanisms: It may be unclear to parents or caregivers whether their kids are sticking to the right “play diet.” Parents don’t see any measurement of how many hours in a week their child has been playing, whether indoors or outdoors. Organized activities and school work have more salient “units” of measurement – school goes from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., homework gets finished, etc. Further, the benefits of play are not immediate, so that is not a source of feedback either. 
  3. Play can feel unexpectedly hard to do: For many of the families interviewed, going out to the playground was seen as a significant undertaking, a half- or full-day outing that required planning around food, water, bathrooms, and transportation. All of these tasks add up. This can lead to a disproportionate focus on the small, short-term costs of play, even while parents recognize the larger, long-term benefits.

The research also recommends three solutions cities can take to holistically address the behavioral bottlenecks:

  1. Play Everywhere: Communities should explore making “dead time” experienced by low-income, urban families (waiting at bus stops, lengthy waits in doctors’ offices, laundromats, etc.) more playful. Cities have many undiscovered assets that can be used to fill their communities with play everywhere. Examples of play everywhere include creative and climbable bus stop shelters and games in doctor’s waiting rooms, which turn what otherwise would be moments of frustration into creative, playable moments of joy.
  2. Proximity Matters: Cities can create mini play destinations “around the corner.” When parks and playgrounds are a bus ride away, they become special-occasion locations. City planners need to develop small, modest but right-around-the- corner options with interesting play structures in under-used spaces that are easy to access and visible. This is the playspace version of the big supermarket versus the corner store.
  3. Create Family-Friendly Cities: Communities should make play more inclusive and appealing to the whole family. Get the parents/caregivers excited by incorporating things they may want to do, like hiking or visiting zoos or exercising, in accessible ways. This will increase the motivation of adults to take their kids to play for longer and more frequent periods of time. Also, a new trend in public spaces is multigenerational playgrounds. KaBOOM!, Humana and the Humana Foundation built more than 50 of them across the U.S.

It is clear that creating kid-friendly, family-friendly cities filled with opportunities to play everywhere is a competitive advantage for cities: playable solutions can help close the inequality gap in cities, make cities more attractive to residents, and is good for adults and children’s mental and physical states. To access the full white paper and the executive summary and to learn more about #playability, visit:

The KaBOOM! Playful City USA Leaders Summit, made possible by the Humana Foundation, is being held in Chicago because it serves as a shining example of prioritizing playability. To learn more about the summit, visit