Play Streets — place-based interventions that involve temporarily closing streets to create safe places and free opportunities for physical activity — are a great way to engage youth and families, get people active, and promote community connections.
The Guide to Implementing Play Streets in Rural Communities provides guidance and recommendations to community groups, schools, faith-based institutions, or other organizations, on how to plan and put on a Play Street in rural communities based on first-hand experience from community partners in rural Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Texas.
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This infographic highlights how Play Streets can provide families who live in rural communities access to safe places for their kids to be active.
We encourage you to download and share the infographic with your community partners and networks.
Systematic review of how Play Streets impact opportunities for active play, physical activity, neighborhoods, and communities
By: M. Renée Umstattd Meyer and Christina N. Bridges Hamilton from Baylor University; Thomas L. Schmid from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Amelie A. Hecht and Keshia M. Pollack Porter from Johns Hopkins University
Physical activity is important for promoting health and preventing obesity among children; however, many families and children live in communities that lack access to safe places for physical activity. Some communities have begun using Play Streets, which are temporary street closures that provide physical activity equipment and activities for children, to provide a safe place for play. This systematic literature review examined how Play Streets impact children, neighborhoods, and communities, while also documenting how Play Streets are implemented and evaluated. Six studies were identified from the peer review literature and included in this review. The findings presented here are based on these studies.
Activities provided at Play Streets included hula-hoops, jump ropes, areas for dancing, bicycles, and balls. Three studies measured physical activity and all three found that children’s physical activity increased during Play Streets. Pedometers, which measure the number of steps taken, and accelerometers, which measure amount and intensity of physical activity, were used to measure physical activity in two of these studies.
One study compared children at Play Streets with a control group and found Play Streets increased children’s overall moderate-to-vigorous physical activity by 9.1 minutes per day and reduced their sedentary behavior by 8.6 minutes per day.
Both studies also surveyed parents and found that outdoor play and time spent playing outside after school generally increased as a result of Play Streets.
A third study, which used the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) to measure physical activity among all people at a Play Street, found 11.3% more children participated in vigorous activity when Play Streets were offered than they did when Play Streets were not offered. The study also found 12.1% more adults were sedentary during Play Streets, which the authors attributed to passive supervision of children at play.
Impact on safety
Five of the six studies examined found that Play Streets and similar interventions provided an active play option with reduced motorized traffic and provision of adult supervision. Five of the studies collected information from parents. One found that 71% of parents reported Play Streets provided safe and supervised outdoor play and 61% reported Play Streets provided a good opportunity for safe outdoor play.
Impact on neighborhoods and communities
Adults felt Play Streets increased a sense of community by strengthening relationships among neighbors and community members. This was confirmed by findings across several individual studies, including:
94% of adults reported Play Streets strengthened their community.
54% of parents reported Play Streets strengthened relationships with neighbors.
61% of parents reported Play Streets were a good way for children to make new friends.
Most parents and children had positive feelings toward Play Streets.
43% of parents identified social interaction as the primary reason they liked Play Streets.
At least 3 in 4 children reported they enjoyed Play Streets.
Racial/ethnic and socioeconomic findings
Three of the six studies included a majority of participants who were Hispanic or Latino. Four studies also included participants who were either of low socioeconomic status or lower income. The results from these studies show the potential impact of Play Streets in communities with fewer resources to be physically active.
Findings from this lay summary are available in the full article, published in the BMC Public Health:
Umstattd Meyer MR, Bridges CN, Schmid TL, Hecht AA, & Pollack Porter KM. Systematic review of how Play Streets impact opportunities for active play, physical activity, neighborhoods, and communities. BMC Public Health. 2019; 19: 335. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-6609-4.
This lay summary was made possible with funding from the Physical Activity Research Center. The research that generated the lay summary was led by Drs. Keshia M. Pollack Porter from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and M. Renée Umstattd Meyer from Baylor University.
Examining the Implementation of Play Streets: A Systematic Review of Reports and Publicly Available Information
By: Christina N. Bridges Hamilton, Tyler M. Prochnow, Emily C. Wilkins, and M. Renée Umstattd Meyer from Baylor University; and Keshia M. Pollack Porter from Johns Hopkins University
Physical activity is linked with promoting health and preventing obesity among children, and active outdoor play is highly important for healthy child development. Yet children today do not play outside as much as their parents did. Safety concerns and communities that lack access to safe places for play contribute to this decline in physical activity and outdoor play. Some communities organize Play Streets—temporary street closures that provide equipment, games and a safe, supervised place to play—to help encourage more children and families to engage in active outdoor play. This study systematically identified and reviewed information about Play Streets from 36 sources of non-academic literature, such as websites and local reports, to learn about how Play Streets are typically organized.
The 36 non-academic sources reviewed provided important information about how Play Streets are put on, although the amount of detail available from each source significantly varied. The effectiveness of Play Streets in promoting physical activity or other outcomes was rarely mentioned. Outcomes that were mentioned mainly consisted of the number of people who attended. Non-academic literature on Play Streets could do more to encourage and help other communities implement Play Streets if they included more detail about the impacts of Play Streets and how they are organized.
Participation at Play Streets
Several sources (14 of 36) reported the number of people who participated in a Play Street. Nine sources described directly marketing Play Streets to children and families to encourage attendance. Five sources specifically held Play Streets in communities that lacked access to physical activity facilities, had low socioeconomic status residents, and/or had residents who were people of color. Information on race or ethnicity of the Play Street attendees was not reported by most of the sources.
Effectiveness of Play Streets
Fourteen of the sources included information about the effectiveness of Play Streets. Success of a Play Street was commonly measured by whether attendance increased with each subsequent Play Street held in a certain location. Five sources mentioned that Play Streets improved safety and relationships among neighbors, most often reported through interviews or focus groups. One source reported that Play Streets allowed more than 8,100 hours of physical activity among participating children; however, there was no information about how this was determined. Four sources surveyed participants to ask about their feelings toward Play Streets. Most of the people surveyed (more than 80%) felt Play Streets improved safety and wanted Play Streets to happen at least once per month.
Adoption of Play Streets
The adoption of Play Streets involves understanding what inspired people to host a Play Street. Twenty Play Streets started from partnerships between community advocacy groups and city departments, including those concerned with physical activity (e.g., departments of parks and recreation). Some sources reported they started Play Streets because other cities had them and multiple sources mentioned Play Streets in New York, which were initially founded by the Police Athletic League.
Characteristics of Play Streets
Seventeen sources described the types of equipment and activities available at Play Streets, including hula hoops, jump ropes, bicycles, and hopscotch. How the equipment was used and by whom was not reported by any of the sources. Thirteen of the sources reported the use of staff or volunteers to supervise Play Streets. Seven sources mentioned the cost of Play Streets, which ranged from $312 for a block party permit to $30,000 to host a Play Street with paid staff.
Continuation of Play Streets
Twenty-six sources mentioned Play Streets that happened more than once, and eight sources mentioned Play Streets that only happened once. Six sources mentioned that the people who organized Play Streets wanted to hold them more frequently and/or increase the number of people who participated in them. Fourteen of the sources mentioned Play Streets were only held during the summer months.
Findings from this lay summary are available in the full article, published in the Journal of Public Health Management & Practice:
Bridges CN, Prochnow TM, Wilkins EC, Pollack Porter KM, & Umstattd Meyer MR. Examining the implementation of Play Streets: A systematic review of the grey literature. Journal of Public Health Management & Practice. 2019. doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000001015.
This lay summary was made possible with funding from the Physical Activity Research Center. The research that generated the lay summary was led by Drs. Keshia M. Pollack Porter from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and M. Renée Umstattd Meyer from Baylor University.
Park use and activity among children in low-income racial and ethnic minority neighborhoods in New York City
By: Aaron Hipp, Claudia Alberico, Jing-Huei Huang, Elizabeth Mazak, and Myron F. Floyd from NC State University; and Dustin Fry and Gina S. Lovasi from Drexel University
Childhood obesity rates in the U.S. remain high: Nearly one in three young people is overweight or obese. Rates are significantly higher among African American and Hispanic youth than among white or Asian youth, and among youth from low-income families compared to those in higher-income families. These health disparities need further understanding and study so that leaders can recommend programs, environments, and policies to reduce them. Parks and playgrounds provide a free, publicly available resource for play and activity that may lead to a decrease in obesity. There have been few studies specifically examining park and playground use among children of color living in low-income neighborhoods. We conducted 79 site visits to New York City parks in 2017 to understand park and playground use in low-income communities of color.
Our team conducted 79 site visits in 20 different parks in New York City during the spring and summer of 2017. We observed over 16,500 kids ages 5 to 10 years old, referred to generally as children below. One-third were Asian-American, 40% Latino, almost 20% African American. Use was lower in the early afternoon hours, and highest in the early evening (6-7pm) and weekends. Kids were less active in the shade or when weather was warmer.
Areas of Activity
Swing sets presented more activity than all other areas of a park, while water/splash features presented the least active areas. Playgrounds generally were another area of high use.
Formal organization, such as sports practices or activities with a coach or parks employee, did not occur often in the parks. But, when these programs did occur there were significantly more children in these spaces than not.
When an organized activity was happening, more children were present, for example children participating in soccer practice. But overall, children were most likely to be found playing in informally organized areas. Across the 20 parks there were many more informal opportunities than formal opportunities.
Handball courts and baseball fields were the spaces least likely to have children.
Differences by race and ethnicity
African American children were less likely to be in parks right after school (3-5:30 pm) during the spring. Latino children had the highest probability of being in parks on weekend days.
Asian American and Latino children were more likely to be in areas with formal organized activities.
Most children were observed using swing sets and playgrounds. This was especially true for Latino and Asian American children, while African American children were most likely to be found on basketball courts.
Findings from this lay summary are available in the full article, published in Urban Forestry & Urban Greening:
Marquet O, Hipp JA, Alberico C, Huang J-H, Fry D, Mazak E, et al. Park use preferences and physical activity among ethnic minority children in low-income neighborhoods in New York City. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. 2019; 38: 346-353. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2019.01.018.
This lay summary was made possible with funding from the Physical Activity Research Center. The research that generated the lay summary was led by Drs. Myron F. Floyd and J. Aaron Hipp from North Carolina State University.
Are adolescents less physically active in the summer?
By: James F. Sallis, Terry L. Conway, Kelli L. Cain, Carrie Geremia, Edith Bonilla, Chad Spoon, University of California San Diego
Children and adolescents gain more weight in the summer than the school year. African American and Latino youth gain more weight in the summer than do youth from other racial or ethnic groups. Some studies have found that youth are less physically activity in the summer, which is surprising because they are not required to sit for many hours in school during the summer. It is unknown whether this seasonal difference varies across race, ethnic, and sex subgroups. The aim of this study was to examine race/ethnic and sex differences in adolescent physical activity, sedentary behavior, and related variables, comparing the school year and summer.
Physical activity rates declined from school year to the summer among all race/ethnic groups and both sexes. Daily physical activity amounts dropped by an average of 14 minutes per day. There were significant racial/ethnic differences in the decline:
showed the greatest decline, about 27 min/day, and White non-Hispanics showed
the least decline, about 5 min/day. This may be due partly to American Indians
being the most active, and White non-Hispanics being the least active, during
the school year.
The school year
to summer decline tended to be greater among boys (17 min/day) than girls (10
min/day), though girls were consistently less active than boys.
Latinos, and girls were the least active groups in the summer, indicating these
subgroups are at particularly high risk.
Sedentary (sitting) time
All racial and ethnic groups were
sedentary between 8 and 9 hours per day, which did not differ from the school
year to the summer. All groups of adolescents reported more screen time in the
summer, except for American Indians. Perhaps screen time increased during
summer because enforced sitting time during school was replaced by more screen
time in the summer.
Enjoyment of physical
All subgroups of adolescents
reported less enjoyment of physical activity in the summer. This is a possible
explanation of lower physical activity in the summer. Virtually all physical
activities are with peers during the school year, so the greater difficulty of organizing
activities with peers in summer could reduce enjoyment of summer activities.
What activities do
adolescents prefer in the summer?
Walking was the most
preferred physical activity across all subgroups and seasons. Exercise (perhaps
interpreted as dance exercise) and running were highly rated by all race/ethnic
groups, and girls showed strong preferences for water play.
Where do adolescents prefer to be active in the summer?
When asked where they would ideally like to do physical activity, in and around the home were rated highly regardless of season, except for Latinos and White non-Hispanics. Other top choices of places to be active in summer varied across subgroups, although swimming pools were a top choice among Latinos, White non-Hispanics, and girls. Asian/Pacific Islanders and boys preferred indoor recreation facilities. American Indians’ top-rated location was parks outside the neighborhood.
Findings from this lay summary are available in the full article, published in Preventive Medicine:
Sallis, JF, Conway TL, Cain KL, Geremia C, Bonilla E, & Spoon C. Race/ethnic variations in school-year versus summer differences in adolescent physical activity. Preventive Medicine. 2019; 129. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2019.105795.
This lay summary was made possible with funding from the Physical Activity Research Center. The research that generated the lay summary was led by Drs. James F. Sallis and Terry L. Conway from the University of California San Diego.
Play Streets — place-based interventions that involve temporarily closing streets to create safe places and free opportunities for physical activity –are a great way to engage youth and families, get people active, and promote community connections. The Guide to Implementing Play Streets in Rural Communities provides guidance and recommendations to community groups, schools, faith-based institutions, or other organizations, on how to plan and put on a Play Street in rural communities based on first-hand experience from community partners in rural Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Texas.
What you will find in the Guide
The Guide is a terrific resource on how to adapt Play Streets from urban settings, where they are typically implemented, to rural settings, and informs each step of the implementation process: what happens before, during, and after a Play Street. The guide also includes examples and feedback from organizations that hosted Play Streets in rural communities, including challenges they faced and overcame, as well as resources like advertisement templates.
In addition to the Guide, you can also find the entire Post Play Streets Form and Template to help with evaluation. Please feel free to download/use this form for your own Play Streets.
If you are interested in learning more about the research related with this project please reference the following scientific articles:
Bridges C. N., Prochnow T. M., Wilkins E. C., Pollack Porter K. M., & Umstattd Meyer M. R. (2019). Examining the implementation of Play Streets: A systematic review of the grey literature. Journal of Public Health Management & Practice. https://doi.org/10.1097/PHH.0000000000001015.
Umstattd Meyer M. R., Bridges C. N., Schmid T. L., Hecht A. A., & Pollack Porter K. M. (2019). Documenting how Play Streets impact opportunities for play, physical activity, and environments: A systematic review. BMC Public Health, 19:335. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-6609-4.
This guide was made possible with funding from the Physical Activity Research Center. The research that generated the guide was led by Drs. Keshia Pollack Porter from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and M. Renée Umstattd Meyer from Baylor University. Contributing authors to the guide included Christina Bridges Hamilton, Tyler Prochnow, Tom Schmid, Emily Wilkins, and ChangeLab Solutions.
Suggested Citation: Pollack Porter KM, Umstattd Meyer MR, et al. Guide to Implementing Play Streets in Rural Communities. San Diego, CA: Physical Activity Research Center, Johns Hopkins University and Baylor University; 2019. Available at: https://www.baylor.edu/publichealth/RuralPlayStreetsGuide.
Findings and Implications for Future Policy Efforts
Physical activity helps children stay physically fit, and reduce the risk for obesity, anxiety and other chronic diseases. Current U.S. guidelines call for children to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily but they are far from meeting these goals. With over 10 million children attending afterschool programs in the U.S. each year, including about 1.6 million in California alone, out-of-school time (OST) programs offer a promising setting for increasing children’s physical activity.
The California Distinguished After School Health (DASH) Recognition Program was the first state-legislated voluntary recognition program in OST focused on healthy eating and physical activity. Out-of-school time programs in California elementary and middle schools serving a high proportion of children from low-income families were eligible for the DASH Program to promote healthy eating and physical activity. The program included certification that participating programs met 10 program standards in health education, healthy eating, nutrition education, physical activity and screen time.
This study evaluated the policy for quality and technical assistance issues in delivering physical activity in DASH-certified programs. The primary research questions focus on understanding (1) how programs that apply for DASH certification differ from non-applicants on a range of characteristics and practices, (2) why some programs decide not to apply, and (3) identifying technical assistance needs to improve DASH compliance.
The most common physical activity session length was 30-35 minutes in which 36% of the time (or approximately 10 minutes) was spent on instruction and management and not on physical activity.
The longer the session, the more MVPA time we observed, with boys being more active than girls. This finding is consistent with earlier studies of physical education, which have also shown that children typically attain MVPA for less than half of each class, and that boys are more active than girls (e.g., Lonsdale et al., 2013; McKenzie et al., 2004; Nader, 2003).
Observations and staff interviews at DASH certified sites suggest that the amount of physical activity varies among sites. Some staff interpreted the DASH standard as a guideline for session length rather than for children’s activity time per se, and others noted that variation in children’s motivation and ability, session content, weather and other factors were influential.
During our evaluation, the program was allowed to sunset for a range of
reasons, including concerns that relatively few programs applied to it and that
quality was difficult to validate. Support for continuing DASH was also low due
to its isolation from other related quality improvement legislation and its
lack of funding for capacity building.
Although DASH ended, efforts to improve physical activity in OST are
ongoing in California and other states. Findings from this study reinforce that,
in order for children to receive adequate MVPA at OST programs, policies should:
Include field-tested, clear language that clearly communicates whether time requirements refer to activity time offered or achieved;
Facilitate access to training and technical assistance on how to maximize activity time, reduce management and instruction time, and ensure girls and boys are equally active;
encourage physical activity periods that are long enough to accommodate instruction while Allowing children to accrue adequate MVPA;
Include a mechanism for ongoing quality assurance; and
Allow for modest levels of day-to-day variability at the classroom and child level, without allowing that variability to weaken activity goals.
Evidence to Inform a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy
By: Angie Cradock ScD, MPE , Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Jessica Barrett, MPH, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Tony Hull, BA, Civil Street Solutions; Billy Fields, PhD, Texas State University
In the United States, few people regularly use physically active modes of transportation like walking or cycling to get to work or school. Might increasing the investment in pedestrian and cycling programs encourage more active modes of transportation? This study uses national data on financial investment in pedestrian and bicycle programs and infrastructure to evaluate the evidence for how funding can support more walking and cycling over time.
This study used data from the U.S. Census and the American Community Survey to look at how people ages 16 and older got to and from work over time between 2000 and 2016 in counties with populations of at least 100,000 people. The authors calculated how much total federal transportation funding was used to support projects for cycling and walking in all U.S. counties from 2000 and 2015, classifying some as high investment counties and others as low investment counties. Authors looked in depth at data from 104 counties. High investment counties spent five to six times as much as low-investment counties did on bicycle and pedestrian projects. The researchers then analyzed these data to determine changes over time in the proportion of workers traveling on foot or bicycle within both low investment and high investment counties.
Key findings from the study included:
Nationally, the proportion of total federal transportation funding allocated specifically for cycling and pedestrian investments has increased over time from 0.1% of total transportation funding allocation in FY 1992 to 2.2% of total transportation funding allocation in FY 2015.
Locally, the allocation and use of federal funding for cycling and pedestrian investments is variable across counties in the U.S.
The share of commuters cycling to work increased on average in counties between 2000 and 2016.
The increases were greater in those counties with high levels of bicycle and pedestrian funding compared to counties with low levels of funding.
In conclusion, many communities may not invest sufficiently
to support growth in cycling and walking for transportation, recreation or
exercise. Federal funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects can play a role
in increasing the proportion of workers using a bicycle to get to and from
The findings in this research summary are based on the results of a project commissioned by the Physical Activity Research Center (PARC) focused on addressing research gaps related to policies aimed at helping children achieve a healthy weight.
Public Health Engagement in Complete Streets Initiatives: Examples and Lessons Learned
By: Christina Sansone, MPH, Jill Sadowski, and Jamie F. Chriqui, PhD, MHS, UIC Institute for Health Research and Policy
Researchers at the Illinois Prevention Research Center’s Physical Activity Policy Research Network+ (PAPRN+) Collaborating Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and Institute for Health Research and Policy have released a new report entitled, Public Health Engagement in Complete Streets Initiatives: Examples and Lessons Learned. The report shares strategies, lessons learned, and case studies of how public health agencies, practitioners, and advocates have successfully engaged with their planning, transportation, and public works’ counterparts on Complete Streets policy making and related initiatives. Information for the report was obtained through key informant interviews and Internet research for 15 jurisdictions across the United States. One of the key features of the report are 2-page profiles on each jurisdiction, which include:
Summaries of how the public health sector has engaged on Complete Streets initiatives and other agencies that they have worked with on this issue
Key lessons learned through their experiences
How they have prioritized equity
A timeline of their Complete Streets-related policy making, initiatives, coalitions, etc
Links to their policies, guidelines, plans, etc.
Funding for this study was provided by a sub-award from the Physical Activity Research Center (PARC) and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the Illinois Prevention Research Center Physical Activity Policy Research Network+ (PAPRN+) Collaborating Center.