By Mica Root
As the poorest large city in the United States, Philadelphia faces many challenges to the health of our people. We have high rates of unemployment, and low rates of college graduation and 3rd grade reading proficiency. Of the 10 largest U.S. cities, we have the highest rates of adult diabetes, hypertension, and premature cardiovascular deaths.
Physical activity, as well as healthy food and freedom from tobacco, can reduce the risk of these chronic diseases – and otherwise support health and well-being. Being active is good for our bones, muscles, joints, and internal organs. It improves strength and endurance. It reduces anxiety and increases self-esteem – especially when it’s fun! The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children get at least an hour of physical activity each day and adults 30 minutes.
Being active is good for our bones, muscles, joints, and internal organs. It improves strength and endurance. It reduces anxiety and increases self-esteem – especially when it’s fun!
Over the past few months, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s Division of Chronic Disease Prevention (Get Healthy Philly), the Community Design Collaborative and Public Workshop have teamed up to develop new opportunities for joyful physical activity in our city. Called Art of Active Play, this collaborative effort engaged children and teenagers, design and health professionals, childcare experts, artists, and other community members in designing and building three imaginative play structures (pictured).
The Art of Active Play Fort, Bench and Balance Boards are currently installed where they were created: in lots and on a sidewalk around the corner of 41st Street and Lancaster Avenue in West Philadelphia. Later this week, they will move to Smith Playground, before finding permanent homes in small spaces – that may not yet offer inspiration for play – along our city streets.
In a 2012 clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Doctors Regina M. Milteer and Kenneth R. Ginsburg write, “Play is essential to the social, emotional, cognitive, and physical well-being of children beginning in early childhood… However, children who live in poverty often face socioeconomic obstacles that impede their right to have playtime, thus affecting their healthy social-emotional development.”
"Children who live in poverty often face socioeconomic obstacles that impede their right to have playtime, thus affecting their healthy social-emotional development.”
Doctors Regina M. Milteer and Kenneth R. Ginsburg
Milteer and Ginsburg cite three issues that disproportionately reduce play opportunities for low-income kids: reduced access to school and after-school outlets for creative and physical expression; lack of safe play areas; and the additional social, economic and emotional stresses of living in poverty that can decrease family members’ ability to help provide playtime. Thirty-six percent of all Philadelphia children – including 50% of Latino children 41% of African American children – live in poverty.
Art of Active Play is an effort to spark conversations about the importance of play in the health of our city, and to promote under-used and unexpected places as opportunities for creative physical activity. It is one of many related efforts happening in Philadelphia right now – some led by the City, School District, and nonprofits, and others by families and neighborhoods.
I invite you to learn more and experience the Art of Active Play Fort, Bench, and Balance Board during DesignPhiladelphia, October 8 -16 at Smith Playground. We’ll be there to talk about Healthy Play on October 8th and join in a Family Play Day on October 12th. See you there!
Blog contributor Mica Root is Special Projects Coordinator for Get Healthy Philly.The Philadelphia Department of Public Health protects and promotes the health of all Philadelphians and provide a safety net for the most vulnerable. Get Healthy Philly, an initiative of the Department’s Division of Chronic Disease Prevention, works to make healthy choices easier by ensuring that all city residents have access to healthy and affordable food; reducing marketing and consumption of sugary drinks and junk foods; and creating opportunities for physical activity in communities, including walkable and bikable neighborhoods, active transit, and smoke-free parks and recreation centers.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Community Design Collaborative.