THE BLOG
10/17/2014 09:41 am ET Updated Dec 16, 2014

Mayor De Blasio's Bold Move: Putting Low Income Kids and Families First

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced the allocation of $130 million in taxpayer funds to repair 35 parks and playgrounds in low-income neighborhoods. This will form the substance of the mayor's "park equity" plan, an important first step toward recognizing that all kids, especially those growing up in poverty, need access to safe places to play.

All families deserve to live in a safe community with ample job opportunities, great schools and abundant opportunities to play, but we currently have inequitable distribution of services, resources, and opportunities for low-income families. This inequity serves to perpetuate the cycle of poverty that threatens our nation's economic future. Creating kid-friendly, family-friendly cities filled with play is a competitive advantage for cities to attract and retain residents, and it directly impacts the kids that need it most.

Recently, I wrote about how across the United States, cities and communities are engaged in a fierce contest for the future. They are competing for residents. And many cities have done a great job of making their municipalities appealing to the creative class. However, as cities continue to compete for residents to bolster the tax-base and attract new business, forward-thinking city leaders are recognizing that they need to think about not just 20-somethings and empty nesters. They need to also attract and retain families for sustainability - families of all income levels who breathe energy and enterprise into neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, many efforts at making cities more livable have not benefited low-income families and kids. For example, until recently, Washington, DC, - a model city for bikability with more than 100 miles of bike lanes and trails - had no bike lanes in Ward 8, which has one of the highest concentrations of poverty and the highest density of kids.

Cities need to make it easy for all kids to get the balanced and active play they need to thrive. We call this Playability, and Mayor de Blasio's plan is a terrific example of increasing opportunities to play in the neighborhoods where low-income kids live. Research shows that in order to get kids playing more, we have to make it more convenient and more integrated into daily life. Consider how Baltimore replaced a traditional bus stop shelter with giant climbable letters that spell BUS, turning an everyday space normally associated with waiting and frustration into a joyful play space that kids love and parents value. Or look to Chicago, where the city is experimenting with People Spots - temporary, pop-up parklets adjacent to sidewalks, typically within existing parking lanes. By reclaiming public space for kids and families, and integrating play into their daily lives, these cities embrace the notion that play should be everywhere.

This is the subject of our upcoming Playful City USA Leaders Summit in Chicago on October 23-24. We're convening city leaders from select Playful City USA communities, educators and influencers, along with philanthropic, nonprofit, and private sector representatives from across the country to develop innovative solutions to address some of the toughest challenges facing their communities - crime, obesity, toxic stress, poverty - and to do so using a great equalizer, play.

I'm excited to see what New York City, a KaBOOM! 2014 Playful City USA honoree, implements next to increase its Playability. While all kids should live within walking distance of a great playspace, I also encourage the mayor and his administration to think beyond the playground - to reimagine how everything from sidewalks and bus stops to grocery stores and health clinics can be filled with play, making it easier for families to prioritize play for their kids.