COVID-19 Pandemic Highlighting the Essential Need for Playgrounds

By Ronda Jackson, Senior Advisor, Government Relations, KABOOM!

Ronda Jackson joined KABOOM! in April of 2017. In this role, she and her team are building public private partnerships with city governments to increase access to play for kids living in under-resourced communities.

May 4, 2020 | Economy, Society | 1 comment


Who will you meet?

Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.

Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.


 

The building blocks of childhood are out of reach for kids and families across the United States and around the world as communities face the impacts of COVID-19.  With nearly 90% of Americans under orders to stay home, communities and kids across the nation are facing a new reality. The places we associate with the essentials of childhood: schools, recreation centers, parks and playgrounds, are increasingly shuttered and out of reach. Millions of families cooped up indoors are adjusting to a new normal without access to these critical assets.

The COVID-19 crisis is bringing to light a need that is too often overlooked in times of relative normalcy: the infrastructure of childhood. As cities grind to a halt, the importance of things like good schools, quality healthcare, nutritious food, and safe places to play is undeniable.

Decades of research and the everyday experiences of caretakers show us that play is an essential part of childhood. The isolation brought on by the current crisis demonstrates in dramatic effect how valuable playgrounds truly are, not only as community gathering places, but as essential civic infrastructure that make neighborhoods resilient places where kids can thrive.

When social distancing restrictions are lifted, families living in communities where government and civil society have invested in critical community infrastructure will return to the playground. But for far too many kids; particularly kids of color who live in communities that have faced long-term disinvestment, the yearning to run, take risks, climb, soar, and make friends on the playground will be just as strong. The return to a “normal” that many of us take for granted just isn’t possible for those kids because “normal” didn’t exist in the first place.

As leaders at all levels of government and civil society consider how to stem the impact of COVID-19 with equity in mind, expanding access to play so that all kids can have an opportunity to live healthy, vibrant childhoods must be a priority.

Since our founding over 24 years ago, KABOOM! has worked hand-in-hand with communities to build incredible, kid-designed playspaces that help give kids in every zip code the opportunity to thrive. Right now, we’re in a scenario we never could have imagined: supporting public health recommendations that playgrounds remain closed.

The challenge of COVID-19 is tremendous, but it also presents an opportunity for the nation to rally around an urgent need: investing in the infrastructure of childhood. We believe that through deep partnerships with communities and a range of public, private, and philanthropic partners, we can achieve what we call playspace equity. Simply put, this means a world in which every kid has access to quality playspaces regardless of factors like race, ethnicity, income, or zip code.

In most U.S. cities, long-term disinvestment has created a dramatic set of disparities in the infrastructure of childhood; disparities that are mirrored in the educational and health outcomes of children.

Baltimore is one such example of how historic, racialized disinvestment leads to playspace inequity. A 2012 study of capital funding needs in Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPSS) showed that it will take a shocking $2.5 billion to bring its facilities up to minimally acceptable standards. With a number this high, the first question that jumps to mind is: what’s behind this gap?

When compared to surrounding jurisdictions, BCPSS receives a similar level of capital funding from state authorities, around $50 million each year for modernization and renovation. The major difference lies in local funding, which is derived from local taxes. Even though surrounding school systems serve a comparable number of students, Baltimore City receives hundreds of millions less in capital funds each year because its tax base is significantly smaller.

The story of why Baltimore and other post-industrial cities saw dramatic declines in their tax bases in the second half of the 20th century is well documented. Segregation, industrial decline, White flight, and further waves of disinvestment and depopulation decimated the financial and political capital of urban centers.

The result is that scarce resources force city leaders to make what seem like impossible choices about where to invest in the infrastructure of childhood: playground or library? Recreation center or park?

The work to close all of these disparities and address chronic disinvestment is likely generational in scope. But we believe that we can solve a piece of the puzzle and make a significant impact in the lives of kids and communities by investing in the infrastructure of childhood. That’s why KABOOM! is partnering with BCPSS to do an analysis of playspace condition across the school system, to target investments toward schools with the greatest infrastructure needs.

KABOOM! is committed to ending playspace inequity, because every kid should have a great place to play when this crisis is over. When the time is right, we will be ready to get to work in communities across the country. But we can’t do this work without the support of federal, state, and local leaders who recognize the essential role of playspaces in making cities resilient, vibrant places to raise future generations.

Discussion

Leave your comment below, or reply to others.

Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.

1 Comment

  1. Very thoughtful piece that encourages us to put more focus on the value of playgrounds and playspace equity – especially during a time where it’s needed the most.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org

Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology

Taking a Look into Our Adaptation Blind Spots

Taking a Look into Our Adaptation Blind Spots

In my business, we’d rather not be right. What gets a climate change expert out of bed in the morning is the desire to provide decision-makers with the best available science, and at the end of the day we go to bed hoping things won’t actually get as bad as our science tells us. That’s true whether you’re a physical or a social scientist.

Well, I’m one of the latter and Meeting of the Minds thought it would be valuable to republish an article I penned in January 2020. In that ancient past, only the most studious of news observers had heard of a virus in Wuhan, China, that was causing a lethal disease. Two months later we were in lockdown, all over the world, and while things have improved a lot in the US since November 2020, in many cities and nations around the world this is not the case. India is living through a COVID nightmare of untold proportions as we speak, and many nations have gone through wave after wave of this pandemic. The end is not in sight. It is not over. Not by a longshot.

And while the pandemic is raging, sea level continues to rise, heatwaves are killing people in one hemisphere or the other, droughts have devastated farmers, floods sent people fleeing to disaster shelters that are not the save havens we once thought them to be, wildfires consumed forests and all too many homes, and emissions dipped temporarily only to shoot up again as we try to go “back to normal.”

So, I’ll say another one of those things I wish I’ll be wrong about, but probably won’t: there is no “back to normal.” Not with climate change in an interdependent world.

Bleutech Park: Vegas’ New Eco Entertainment Park

Bleutech Park: Vegas’ New Eco Entertainment Park

I caught up with Steph Stoppenhagen from Black & Veatch the other day about their work on critical infrastructure in Las Vegas. In particular, we talked about the new Bleutech Park project which touts itself as an eco-entertainment park. They are deploying new technologies and materials to integrate water, energy, mobility, housing, and climate-smart solutions as they anticipate full-time residents and park visitors. Hear more from Steph about this new $7.5B high-tech biome in the desert.

Urban Simulation Tech Models Effects of Shared Mobility in Reducing Congestion

Urban Simulation Tech Models Effects of Shared Mobility in Reducing Congestion

Planning for new, shared modes of transit that will rival private vehicles in access and convenience requires a paradigm shift in the planning process. Rather than using traditional methods, we need to capture individual behavior while interacting with the systems in questions. An increasing number of studies show that combining agent-based simulation with activity-based travel demand modeling is a good approach. This approach creates a digital twin of the population of the city, with similar characteristics as their real-world counterparts. These synthetic individuals have activities to perform through the course of the day, and need to make mobility decisions to travel between activity locations. The entire transportation infrastructure of the city is replicated on a virtual platform that simulates real life scenarios. If individual behavior and the governing laws of the digital reality are accurately reproduced, large-scale mobility demand emerges from the bottom-up, reflecting the real-world incidences.

The Future of Cities

Mayors, planners, futurists, technologists, executives and advocates — hundreds of urban thought leaders publish on Meeting of the Minds. Sign up below to follow the future of cities.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Wait! Before You Leave —

Wait! Before You Leave —

Subscribe to receive updates on the Executive Cohort Program!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This