Thousands of Children in Search of a Good Playground

Can 1,000 children fit on one playground? Though DC boasts many playgrounds across the city, some neighborhoods don’t have enough playgrounds to accommodate every child who wants to play. Playgrounds aren’t just about having fun—they also provide places for children’s development and learning, physical activity and engagement with peers. Every child needs an inviting and accessible place to play, and with a growing young child population in DC, these crucial neighborhood assets deserve careful analysis and serious investment.

When DC Action for Children analyzed playground density by neighborhood and number of young children in those neighborhoods, we found distinct differences.

Neighborhoods with many children have very few playgrounds. Ideally, a neighborhood with lots of young children would be filled with playground resources (though population changes and urban density can often present challenges). This is not always the case in DC.

•    Neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, where a third of young children live, have only 20% of the city’s playgrounds. These are also areas that lack other types of assets, such as grocery stores.

•    The match between number of children and number of playgrounds varies widely by neighborhood. Douglas/Shipley Terrace has one playground but is home to more than 1,000 children under age five. By contrast, fewer than 100 young children live in West End/Foggy Bottom/GWU but the neighborhood has two playgrounds.

•    In Woodland/Fort Stanton/Garfield Heights/Knox Hill, where 600 young children live, there are no playgrounds.

A playground may be nearby, but is it accessible? We found that nearly every location in the city is within a mile of a playground and most neighborhoods are within a half mile. However, distance can be a deceiving measure for accessibility. Highways or busy intersections can act as barriers, so what looks like a nearby playground can in reality be much farther away. For example, in Fairlawn and Randle Highlands (circled on the map) a freeway and the Anacostia River separate children from playgrounds to the north and wooded areas present a barrier in accessing playgrounds to the south and west.

Fortunately, an exciting new playground renovation project is underway, but will it solve all the problems? As part of the Play DC project, the Department of Parks and Recreation will invest $30 million to renovate nearly half of the playgrounds in DC. (In making this announcement, we are thrilled to see that the city joins us in recognizing playgrounds as important assets for children.) Play DC will make needed renovations to playgrounds, but it will not build new ones in areas that may need them. We think it is crucial to consider which neighborhoods do not have playgrounds (Downtown/Chinatown) or where barriers make them inaccessible (Fairlawn/Randle Highlands), as well as which neighborhoods have too few playground resources to meet the needs of a large child population (Douglas/Shipley Terrace).

Every child deserves a great playground close to home. Matching playgrounds more closely to child population should be a primary goal, and we encourage the city to consider this as part of its plans for Play DC.

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