Increasing Healthy Play: A Multi-Pronged Evaluation of Context, Design, and Perceptions for Play Space Improvements


public space
health inequities
systematic observation

How to Cite

Michael, Y. L., Nicholas, D. S., Ruben, D., Epstein, N., Dickinson, S. T., & Hirsch, J. A. (2023). Increasing Healthy Play: A Multi-Pronged Evaluation of Context, Design, and Perceptions for Play Space Improvements. Journal of Healthy Eating and Active Living, 3(2), 100–106.


Community design interventions have prioritized the creation of quality play space, especially in easy to access public places, to improve health outcomes and to reduce health inequities. Evaluations of health-relevant play interventions often fail to assess essential context, design, and perceptions. The Play Everywhere Philadelphia Challenge, led by KABOOM!, funded 16 play spaces to support child health and development and literacy skills in everyday locations for low-income neighborhoods across Philadelphia. In June-October 2022, our interdisciplinary team evaluated completed play space installations (k=9) to identify site aspects that facilitated greater use. We mapped neighborhood context (e.g., child amenities, sociodemographics, pedestrian and bike accessibility), and identified perceptions of visitors (n=87) with on-site surveys (e.g., social connections, attractiveness, safety). We also conducted direct and systematic observations of play space design (e.g., signage, shade), visitation (i.e., number of visitors/hour), and engagement (i.e., visitors engaging with installation). We summarized visitation and engagement across contextual and design data. Observation data was compared with survey responses. While many visitors passed through sites, of those who stopped, 70% spent at least 30 minutes. Successful projects balanced engagement, use, and community or context. Installations with poor condition (i.e., cleanliness and maintenance) had the lowest visitation and engagement. More active/kinetic installations drew more visitors. This evaluation comprehensively analyzed play space improvements and provides both qualitative and quantitative evidence to inform recommendations to increase use and impact of urban play spaces. This suite of methods provides a framework for multi-pronged evaluations across many community design intervention settings.


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Copyright (c) 2023 Yvonne L. Michael, Diana S. Nicholas, Debra Ruben, Nancy Epstein, Stephen T. Dickinson, Jana A. Hirsch