Bringing equity to Philly’s play spaces
Play Everywhere Philly is part of Kaboom!’s nationwide Play Everywhere initiative, which brings play opportunities to places that kids and families use every day — the bus stop, the grocery store, the laundromat and the sidewalk. All 16 Philly projects center the needs of low-income communities. The project marks a first experimentation with new educational elements through a partnership with the local organization Playful Learning Landscape.
Play isn’t just about getting wiggles out, research shows. It “means brain-building activities, having these caregiver-child interaction moments, that means developing their physical, and social, and psychological muscles that they’ll be able to pull on for their entire lives.” DeMarco said.
While Philadelphia ranks highly among U.S. cities for park access, the opportunities for play vary greatly depending on zip code. Yue Wu, neighborhood planning and project manager at the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation, said kids in her neighborhood don’t have many safe options. That’s why the group applied for Play Everywhere funds to transform the 10th Street plaza, which crosses the Vine Street Expressway, into a “PlayZa.”
“Chinatown is the only minority, low-income neighborhood in Center City and residents are living in a very dense, urban condition,” Wu said. “The closest playground is in Franklin Square, but it’s very dangerous to get to Franklin Square. The kids need to cross several intersections where the crosswalk is in the state of disrepair and the traffic on the street is very fast.”
The pandemic has made the lack of open space in the neighborhoods especially urgent as families seek outdoor spaces where they can enjoy fresh air in a safe, socially distant environment, said Wu.
Play Everywhere Philly awarded the PCDC with a $70,000 grant to install maps, interactive learning panels and Chinese games in the plaza, with English, Mandarin and Cantonese translations. The idea is to include elements for children and parents to discuss their history and culture, connect to the neighborhood and foster cultural identities through safe play.
DeMarco said Kaboom! used different criteria to select the winning projects, in collaboration with Playful Learning Landscape and the Community Design Collaborative, another local partner.
Those criteria included the strength of the learning opportunity presented by the play installation; feasibility, which included conversations with city government about permits and the play value — the ability to “spark joy” and engage with kids and caregivers. Another factor: the population served by each installation.
“We originally came up with a list of target neighborhoods based on an equity lens of places that have experienced historic disinvestment, where the highest need is across the city,” DeMarco said. “And we ensured that we targeted outreach in those areas.”
The grant covers the costs of building the installation as well as the community-driven design process that will further define plans.
Philly’s first ‘traffic park’
One of the first Play Everywhere projects in Philly will be a traffic park, a place where children and adults can safely learn how to ride bikes and the rules of the road.
The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, which created the project, wants to open it in North Philly’s Hunting Park on May 21 — National Bike to Work Day.
“This would be the first of its kind in the region, and so we thought it would be really a great thing for us to shoot for,” said Stephanie Fenniri, BCGP’s deputy director.
Hunting Park residents, who are mostly Latino and Black, are statistically more likely to struggle with health problems and adults are more likely to live sedentary lifestyles, according to city public health data. The neighborhood itself struggles with outdated road infrastructure that has contributed to dangerous traffic conditions. Several main thoroughfares are in the city’s Vision Zero High Injury Network, the 12% of Philadelphia streets responsible for 50% of all traffic deaths and severe injuries.
Fenniri said lower-income Philadelphians, especially those living in areas like Hunting Park shaped by discriminatory lending and planning, have a hard time finding places to learn street safety. The “Lil’ Philly Safety Village” wants to change that with a kid-sized, colorful park with roads, traffic lights, intersections, pedestrian crossings and bike lanes.
“With the pandemic, we found that there’s a huge bike boom, and that people are using bikes more than ever in order to get to work and also for recreational purposes,” Fenniri said. “It’s a great way to get outside, to stretch your legs, and it has a huge mental health benefit. And we’re hoping that we can encourage it not only for people to get out onto trails and all the roads during this time, but that we’re able to also pass this gift on to future generations.”
The project was awarded $60,000, which will pay more than half of the total cost of the project budgeted at $110,000.
Disclosure: WHYY receives support from the William Penn Foundation.