About this project...

Author: Kathleen Hill
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathleen-hill322/

Research Questions This Project Considers

How important are safe parks and playgrounds to a child’s development?

To stress the importance of child play to childhood development, a child’s right to rest and leisure, as well as to engage in age appropriate play has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (Ginsburg, 2007). According to McKenzie et al. (2013), “national recommendations are for [children] to engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily.” As much of this activity occurs outside, it is important that any community include adequate open-air play spaces.

This research consisted of an evaluation of any trends in the location of these facilities to identify any disparities between communities or identify any areas of need for further development.

How can one identify a safe playground?

To consider an area “safe” this research will involve comparing available geotagged traffic accidents and fatalities, crime reports, traffic data sets against the locations of the District’s playgrounds. For the purpose of this project, a playground is considered to be safer if it is not located in proximity to crimes or crashes, and if it is located in an area with additional traffic control (lower speeds and more speed humps).

Are there currently open-air play spaces located in the areas of Washington DC where concentrated numbers of children reside?

This was explored via a comparison of census population data by age for areas within Washington DC against the locations of playgrounds and parks across the District.

Are there any disparities in play area availability between socioeconomic areas as determined by census data?

Li et al. (2022) discuss the relationship between a family’s socioeconomic status (SES) and children’s play. They note that children from low-income families are less likely to take part in outdoor play activities. They mention the possibility that those children in lower-income families might have less access to play spaces. Drenowatz et al. (2010) similarly note that their experiment studying habitual sedentary behavior in 8- to 11-year old children indicates that there is a disparity between SES of families, noting that those children in higher SES groups spend less sedentary time watching television.

This was explored via a comparison of the socioeconomic data available through census data for given areas in which play areas are either located in or nearby, or not.


According to Cohen et al. (2019), though it has been identified that moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) is recommended for both youth and adults, and playgrounds are designed to foster this sort of activity, there is currently a lack of information as to what are the features of a play space which might encourage their use. They go on to state that, there are barriers which ”contribute to the underuse of playgrounds, including heightened fears about crime, and the need for supervision of children” leading to the sparse use of playgrounds “especially in low- income neighborhoods.”

McKenzie et al. discuss a number of factors which might lead to adults discouraging their children from using playgrounds, including the presence of incivilities (i.e. graffiti, litter, and overgrown vegetation) at a park, though this did not specifically cite perceived safety as a factor. They also note that “support for physical activity within an environment is often associated with its socioeconomic status (SES) …” which will be one of the areas explored through this research.

Marquet et al. (2019) further discuss the significance of the concept of safety and crime activity on the use of play areas for children. They highlight that though the presence of nearby parks is an important contributing factor to increased physical activity for children, incidents of crime also negatively effect the use of parks and the amount of physical activity that occur in them.

This research seeks to highlight some of these additional barriers to facility use through the identification of areas that parents might deem as unsafe in hopes that city planners and local law enforcement might better be able to focus on these areas for improvement of circumstances in the local area which might increase the use of available play spaces.


  • Al-zayat, R. (2016, December 6). Samsung Galaxy. Unsplash. https://unsplash.com/photos/w33-zg-dNL4
  • Cohen, D. A., Han, B., Williamson, S., Nagel, C., McKenzie, T. L., Evenson, K. R., & Harnik, P. (2020). Playground features and physical activity in U.S. neighborhood parks. Preventive medicine, 131, 105945. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2019.105945
  • Drenowatz, C., Eisenmann, J. C., Pfeiffer, K. A., Welk, G., Heelan, K., Gentile, D., & Walsh, D. (2010). Influence of socio-economic status on habitual physical activity and sedentary behavior in 8-to 11-year old children. BMC public health, 10(1), 1-11.
  • Ginsburg, K. R., & Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics, 119(1), 182-191.
  • Li, S., Sun, J., & Dong, J. (2022). Family Socio-Economic Status and Children’s Play Behaviors: The Mediating Role of Home Environment. Children, 9(9), 1385.
  • Marquet, O., Hipp, J. A., Alberico, C., Huang, J. H., Fry, D., Mazak, E., … & Floyd, M. F. (2019). Short-term associations between objective crime, park-use, and park-based physical activity in low-income neighborhoods. Preventive medicine, 126, 105735.
  • McKenzie, T. L., Moody, J. S., Carlson, J. A., Lopez, N. V., & Elder, J. P. (2013). Neighborhood Income Matters: Disparities in Community Recreation Facilities, Amenities, and Programs. Journal of park and recreation administration, 31(4), 12–22.
  • MRSC - Speed Limits and Traffic Calming. (n.d.). https://mrsc.org/Home/Explore-Topics/Transportation/Traffic-Codes,-Regulation-and-Enforcement/Speed-Limits-Traffic-Calming.aspx
  • Safe Streets to Schools, ArcGIS API for Python. (n.d.-b). https://developers.arcgis.com/python/samples/safe-streets-to-schools/
  • Sepulveda, R. (2019, March 14). multicolored playing ground at daytime. Unsplash. https://unsplash.com/photos/8NymO2MErVI