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Researching Play Equity in Philadelphia Neighborhoods

Image of park design for children play space

September 7, 2022

KABOOM!, a national nonprofit organization, received a grant from the William Penn Foundation (WPF) in 2019 to launch Play Everywhere Philly, a competition to create playful learning spaces that support child development and literacy skills in neighborhoods across Philadelphia. Two Dornsife School of Public Health faculty, Jana A. Hirsch, MES, PhD, and Yvonne Michael, ScD, SM, received funding from WPF to lead a research team from the Urban Health Collaborative (UHC) and Westphal College of Media Arts and Design to understand features that promote engagement with the 16 installations that were completed with funding awarded through the competition.

Drexel students were a key component of the research team. This included travelling to each completed installation to record observations of play space usage and surveying community members about their experiences in the play spaces. The interdisciplinary nature of the project brought together a diverse team of students with a variety of perspectives and experiences. For Vishwa Patel, MPH ’23, field research was an opportunity to explore spaces which support child development and literacy skills. “I was surprised to discover how different the sites were from each other in terms of their surrounding environment, as well as the groups of people that would attend these sites,” said Vishwa, noting the way child attendance and engagement seemed highest at installations which were clean, safe, and culturally accessible. Vanessa Xie, MS ’23, approached the project from a design lens. While conducting field research in several unique installations across the city, she began taking note of installation designs and their relationships with their neighborhoods. “It is crucial for play spaces to be designed in the context of their surrounding environment and nature elements. Doing otherwise might inadvertently keep children from playing on or with them.”

The research team will combine the students’ observed counts of play space interaction and public surveys with formal design assessments performed by faculty members and geospatial assessments of demographic, socioeconomic, and environmental information performed by the UHC research and data core. The team aims to provide guidance to WPF for the placement and design of future playful learning installations. Identifying key aspects that increase engagement could strengthen child-caregiver ties, encourage engagement within the urban environment, and promote health equity for children everywhere.