Nonprofit tackles inequities by building playgrounds in low-income neighborhoods

Nearly 30 million children in the U.S. do not have a park within a 10-minute walk of their home. And children from lower-income neighborhoods tend to have less access to parks than those in high-income areas. But as special Correspondent Cat Wise reports, a nonprofit is working to end those play space inequities.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    28 million children in the U.S. do not have a playground within a 10 minute walk of their home. And children from lower income neighborhoods tend to have less access to parks and playgrounds than those in high income areas. But a special correspondent Cat Wise reports, a nonprofit is working to end those play space inequities.

  • Brandi Walker, Parent:

    What did you do at school today?

  • Child:

    We went on a playground.

  • Cat Wise:

    After a long day at work, lifelong Baltimore resident Brandi Walker often takes her kids to one of their favorite places in the neighborhood. The Harlem Park Elementary and Middle school playground. It's a fun place to be, says Walker's 11 year-old-son Jordan.

  • Jordan Grant:

    My favorite part is when I'm on a spinning thing and a monkey bars. I like to play with my friends and my family.

  • Cat Wise:

    But this colorful playground wasn't always so fun.

  • Brandi Walker:

    In previous years the playground was to me set, there was just a blacktop and field. The playground didn't allow the children activities to build gross motor skills.

  • Cat Wise:

    Many of Baltimore's playgrounds are in need of a makeover. This year, a citywide assessment found 112 playgrounds at schools and parks in the city are in poor condition. Most of them are in neighborhoods with predominantly low income communities of color.

  • Lysa Ratliff, CEO, KABOOM:

    People of color are absolutely disproportionately impacted by play space inequity.

  • Cat Wise:

    Lysa Ratliff is the CEO of KABOOM, a nonprofit started in 1996, that's helped build or improve more than 17,000 playgrounds around the country, including Harlem Parks in 2016.

  • Lysa Ratliff:

    Because of historical and racialized disinvestment in our communities, kids don't have places to play in their schools or near their houses, people of color have suffered. And people of color have experienced lower budgets, lower resources, and quite frankly, lower prioritization in making sure they have what they need to thrive.

  • Cat Wise:

    She says now more than ever, play spaces are needed as many children cope with mental health issues due to the pandemic.

  • Lysa Ratliff:

    The science tells us that our well-being, our physical, our mental health is affected by having great places to be outdoors, connect with our Earth, connect with our fellow human beings, that there is really no stronger remedy to physical and mental health and what we call a sense of belonging, and community. We know what's possible here.

  • Cat Wise:

    Ratliff recently visited a playground about to get a makeover with officials from Baltimore's public school district and the Recreation and Parks Department.

  • Speaker:

    So they're actually going to be two play spaces here.

  • Cat Wise:

    Kaboom partners with local government and community organizations to identify neighborhoods in greatest need of a playground, and then helps find funders and facilitates the planning and building of the playground.

    Members of the community, including kids also play an important role, providing their input on designs and helping on build days. Earlier this year, KABOOM received a big boost $14 million from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. Playgrounds have recently been built at Butterfly Park in Milwaukee, Chinatown in Philadelphia, and in San Francisco's Heron's Head Park, where kids now play in the nature-inspired space. But Baltimore has been a big focus, more than 40 playgrounds have been built or improved there over the last two decades.

  • Mayor Brandon Scott, Baltimore:

    As a young person who grew up here in Baltimore living in Park Heights, I know how much a Rec and Parks facilities can really help young people. Go, go.

  • Cat Wise:

    Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott says he appreciates KABOOM's partnerships with his city and he wants to do more, $41 million from the American Rescue Plan have been designated for upgrading Baltimore's parks and recreational facilities.

  • Brandon Scott:

    And developing a playground is like allowing — developing a child to grow into their full self. They're going to be in a safe place, right? They're going to be able to be physically healthy, that helps with their mental health that allows the family to experience things. There's a sense of community they get from being with other folks. And guess what you need to grow healthy and safe communities.

  • Cat Wise:

    In April KABOOM launched a new $250 million initiative with the goal of ending playspace inequity in 25 communities in the next five years. What does that look like? A high quality playground in your every child's home or school according to KABOOM. Baltimore was the first city selected for the new program. More than 50 playgrounds will be built or improved in the next few years.

  • Lysa Ratliff:

    This is a solvable problem. It is fairly low cost and high impact we can make some significant investments that don't just have immediate benefits but have long term benefits for our communities and our kids.

  • Cat Wise:

    Back in Harlan Park, Brandi Walker says her neighborhoods rebuilt playground has helped her kids and her.

  • Brandi Walker:

    When we come to the playground, I just feel safer. And I'm able to relax and debrief from the day before going home and start in our evening. Good job.

  • Cat Wise:

    For "PBS News Weekend," I'm Cat Wise.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Such a great story.

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