There are more than 35 million kids between preschool and eighth grade in this country, and they all have parents who spend every non-school hour trying to figure out what to do with them.
For generations, the answer was “go outside,” but that’s no longer necessarily the case. Everything from suburban sprawl to the rise of video games and social media to a hyper-competitive educational environment has conspired to put real downward pressure on how much outdoor play kids get, and the result is obvious: The CDC says the percentage of overweight or obese children in this country has doubled in the last 20 years, and there’s plenty of evidence that kids gain more weight when they should be doing more playing — during summer break.
Fatherly’s 25 Best U. S. Cities For Kids To Play Outside takes a close look at the state of play and play spaces in America today. The report includes a data-driven ranking taking into account everything from parks access to the rate of violent crime, plus insights from some of the leading thinkers on play science and playgrounds.
It’s a by-the-numbers assessment of what works and where it works best for parents, because the last thing play should be is anything by the numbers.
Playgrounds Per Capita
Playgrounds in the U.S. are experiencing whatever the opposite of a renaissance is: They’re less inspired and more expensive than ever and, pretty soon, they may not even include grass. But they matter — according to a report by the play advocacy group KaBoom!, kids who live in a neighborhood without one are 26 percent more likely to be obese. The other 74 percent are just more likely to be bored and irritable.
Access To Parks & Open Space
The number of parks a community has can be misleading, since the more meaningful statistic is the one illustrating how many people can access those parks. An even more meaningful number? .5 — that’s how many miles away a park should be to ensure it’s within a 10-minute walk for young kids and busy parents.
Crime & Safety
It doesn’t matter how much outdoor space your kids have access to — if the city suffers from high rates of violent crimes like murder, rape, robbery, or assault, you’re going to be disinclined to let them take advantage of the local parks and playgrounds.
Weather shouldn’t necessarily be a huge factor in outdoor play — as Paige Johnson, creator of PlayScapes, points out, the Europeans have a strong tradition of daily outdoor recreation no matter the weather. In the U.S., people are less inclined to head out when they’re under constant attack from the clouds. Europeans, as a general rule, have way cooler playgrounds. Coincidence?
A city’s walkability takes into account everything from pedestrian friendliness to the length of individual blocks and the density of intersections. Because being a half-mile scooter ride from the park is only a good thing if it’s a half-mile on a safe sidewalk. Also, why are you riding a scooter?