THE BLOG
05/14/2014 08:30 am ET | Updated Jul 12, 2014

For Cities to Compete, They Need to Play

Across the United States, urban leaders are implementing a powerful idea: To compete, they need play.

In order to attract and retain the businesses, jobs and residents who breathe energy and enterprise into their neighborhoods, they first need to foster family-friendly, kid-friendly environments that promote play everywhere, while addressing the needs of underserved communities.

At KaBOOM!, we call this idea playability, the extent to which a city makes it easy for all kids to get balanced and active play. Because play matters for all kids. And this week, in partnership with the Humana Foundation -- the philanthropic arm of Humana, Inc. -- our Playful City USA initiative is honoring 212 cities and towns in 43 states that make playability a part of their community-wide agenda.

Together, these communities represent the vanguard of a national playability movement. They are finding creative ways to meet the needs of families, grow their economies, and become more competitive. And, in the process, they are solving some of our nation's most pressing challenges on the scale that they exist.

For instance, these cities know that play can help young people manage toxic stress, an epidemic among children in low-income neighborhoods, and an issue at the heart of our work. This is why, in Washington D.C., the Play DC initiative is redefining playgrounds as community spaces in which young people can cope with and positively release their stress. It is why, in Brownsville, Texas -- recently named the poorest city in the country -- city leaders recently broke ground on the community's first walking trail and handicapped-accessible playground. Families that ordinarily would struggle to find safe, public opportunities to get active are now discovering that their city is making it easy for their kids to play everywhere.

These cities know that play can spark creativity and resilience, two of the most important leadership- and job-skills of the 21st century, while enriching all other aspects of learning from the STEM disciplines to critical thinking and analysis. This is why the City of Chicago, under the leadership of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is delivering on their ambitious goal to ensure that every child lives within a seven-minute walk to a park or playground, while extending the school day to bring back recess, physical education, and the arts.

Play is essential for young people's health and wellness, as well. It builds muscles, expands minds, and forges friendships. Cities like Baton Rouge, Louisiana, have launched in-school programs that teach students about balance by getting active, eating better, and spending less time in front of screens. In Baton Rouge's case, the city also introduced a mobile recreation unit called "BREC on the Geaux," which brings play equipment to underserved neighborhoods.

These inspiring efforts are just the beginning. These cities and our other 2014 Playful City USA honorees are setting a great example for others to consider and to follow.

Moreover, they have not simply relegated play to the playground. They have made the positive choice the easy choice by ensuring that kids -- and the supportive, engaged adults who care for them -- have the opportunity to play everywhere, from the sidewalk to the bus stop.

With partners like the Humana Foundation, KaBOOM! is calling on communities all across the country to do the same, ensuring that all kids, particularly the 16 million growing up in poverty, have the childhood they deserve -- a childhood filled with the play they need to thrive.

When cities invest in playability, they set in motion a virtuous cycle. More opportunities for play attract more families, which leads to economic competitiveness. When cities make good on the promise of play, all of their residents have an opportunity to be happy, healthy, and to contribute to their community's overall vitality.

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