Playful, Active and Healthy Cities: A New Partnership Between Let’s Move and Playful City USA

“Creating more and better playspaces is something that is very important to us. Research shows that recreation improves a person’s physical and emotional well-being. Quality playspaces make recreation more fun. The more fun recreation is, the more likely it is that our citizens will engage it, leading up to a healthier, happier community. The Playful City USA program is the most distinguished program recognizing quality environments for recreation in the country. We feel validated in our efforts that they continue to recognize this community.”Mayor Parker Wiseman, Starkville, Mississippi

KaBOOM! was honored to join First Lady Michelle Obama, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and local elected officials from across the country, in Philadelphia to announce public and private sector commitments to support the goals of Let’s Move!, the First Lady’s initiative to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation. (1)

In her remarks, the First Lady spotlighted Mayor Chip Johnson for continuing to work to improve the health of children in Hernando, Mississippi.  Hernando, a five-time Playful City USA, has entered into several joint use agreements to increase access to play at existing facilities for basketball and soccer leagues. The city continues to create more awareness about the importance of play and hopes to improve the level of physical activity through participation in recreation programs.

“I want to echo the thank-yous for our outstanding partners in this new coalition,” said Obama. “And of course, KaBOOM! for supporting new playgrounds—like the one that we’re going to unveil here today—where kids can get around and get the exercise they need to stay healthy.”

Just prior to the event, a new website was launched to help elected officials meet their goals of empowering kids to eat healthy and stay active, which includes detailed information on the importance of mapping playspaces and the tools to do it, including through Playful City USA. (2) The goal of Let’s Move! and the vision of KaBOOM! (a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America) intersect on the playground as children who live within a half mile of a playground are five times more likely to be physically fit and engage in active, healthy play.

Playful City USA is an application-based national recognition program honoring cities and towns that make play a priority and use innovative programs to get children active, playing, and healthy. Playful City USA communities make a commitment to play and physical activity by developing unique local action plans to increase the access to play in their community. In doing so, some of the most innovative concepts and cost-effective programs are being developed in Playful City USA communities.

In the sixth year of the annual program, 213 cities received this distinction with, 19 communities receiving recognition for the sixth consecutive year, while 24 earned honors for the fifth time, 27 for the fourth time, 29 for the third time, 45 for the second time, and 69 claimed their first Playful City USA designation. Through the partnership with Let’s Move, Playful City USA looks forward to this growing the number of cities taking action for the cause of play.

Playful City USA Program Manager MJ Kurs-Lasky notes that the program exists to fill a need for communities to intentionally make play part of their planning process. Kurs-Lasky goes on to say, “Playful City USA creates an opportunity for cities to focus on play and recreation initiatives. It also provides a voice to often overlooked individual play advocates as they present their ideas before a national coalition of advocates seeking to expand community’s access to recreation and well being. These cross-city conversations further provide a national platform for cities to showcase their initiatives, and allow other cities to replicate these best practices across the country.”

The Program

Playful City USA designees participate in a three-step process that consists of:  

(1) mapping local playspaces in order to assess the number, quality, and location of playspaces in their city. This is done through the conducting of a playspace audit. The results of this research allows cities to identify Play Deserts— or more specifically child rich, playspaces that are in poor areas;

(2) asking cities to complete a needs assessment which evaluates existing play policies and initiatives in the community and determines areas that could be strengthened or where new programs can be developed; and finally

(3) cities committing to share best practices based on their needs assessment. These best practices provide a framework to implement a minimum of three policies or programs, aimed at improving access to play at school, in neighborhoods, and through community engagement.

In order to be considered a Best Practice each case study must meet three criteria: 1) Demonstrate or be capable of demonstrating systemic impact; 2) Be easily replicated in other cities and communities; 3) Substantively impact the quantity, quality or access to play at the city level.

Policies that cities have focused on have included, but are not limited to, joint use agreements, recess, housing development ordinances, and community built playgrounds. Designees have also focused their programming efforts on developing play days, traveling playgrounds, summer programming, among others.

As cities and towns begin to focus their efforts on fighting the obesity epidemic and getting children and families active, the end goal will now shift to making sure that the practices and solutions that are developed are shared widely and replicated across the nation.


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