The wellbeing of society begins with the wellbeing of children.
This is the philosophy subscribed to by KaBOOM, the non-profit American company that’s exclusively focused on bringing play into the daily lives of all children in the US, particularly those growing up in poverty.
KaBOOM – Bringing Play to All Children
Established 10 years ago, KaBOOM is an incredible company that’s built up a massive list of financial partners already, including international names such as Disney, Morgan Stanley, Dr Pepper and Yokohama.
They’ve even roped President and Mrs Obama in to build play space!
KaBOOM fundraise, create opportunities, give grants, and ultimately they are dedicated to enabling all children across America access to play.
Their latest brilliant idea is the Play Everywhere Challenge.
The Play Everywhere Challenge
This is currently a US only competition calling for ideas to uncover: “the best replicable, scalable innovations in city redevelopment and design that will make play easy, available and fun for all kids and families.”
The competition is absolutely open to anyone who can create an original idea that reimagines a space as a plaYce. I.e., somewhere that can inspire and enable play.
It’s not about coming up with a brilliant design for a new play park in a town, it’s about seeing a space with fresh eyes, turning it into a safe and playable space, and ensuring the idea can be replicated across every town or city, every urban area in America.
Together with KaBOOM’s funding and strategic collaborators there’s $1 million up for grabs in prizes to make the very best ideas a reality.
What is Playability?
A driving idea behind KaBOOM’s work is playability and this is central to the Play Everywhere Challenge.
Playability is defined as: “the extent to which a city makes it easy for all kids to get balanced and active play.”
It isn’t just about creating ever more wonderful playgrounds in beautiful parks; it’s about reimagining urban spaces as plaYces.
I.e., KaBOOM wants us to see that any space can become a play place.
If you think about it, play really can happen anywhere you allow or enable it, whether that space is a supermarket queue or a bus stop for example, and that makes play equitable and accessible for all.
Why is Playability Important?
Playability is critical for many reasons.
Firstly, by enabling free play anywhere it’s as safe as possible, you make it genuinely accessible to all. No matter whether a child is growing up in the most affluent area, or a poverty-stricken place, if play can happen for free all children can benefit.
The most affluent areas with the wealthiest councils will always be able to afford the best public spaces – fact. But KaBOOM knows that play isn’t just about having a wonderful highly maintained play park, it’s about seeing all space as a potential plaYce.
Secondly, urban communities across the US (and beyond) are all competing with each other. They are competing for businesses, economic development and jobs.
But they are also competing for people to live there and contribute – with their energy, enterprise, education, taxes etc.
KaBOOM explain it like this: “Ten years ago, a creative class settled into downtown, urban centers. Condos and coffee shops followed. As the creative class has aged, their value to cities, in spending power and taxable income, has only grown, but now they are having children. As their children age, married couples move to the suburbs on the promise of safer streets and better schools, at the cost of an urban lifestyle.
“Playability is a key strategy in this struggle to keep young families in cities. Urban leaders are transforming their streetscapes into livable, walkable, bikeable places that attract the creative class, and dramatically improve their citizens’ quality of life.”
If a community, any community, can make itself an attractive and appealing prospect for residents, they will come, they will remain, and they will positively contribute.
Placemaking and Playability
As regular Vox Urban readers will know by now, placemaking is central to our spirit, we believe in it absolutely and look for it in every urban innovation we examine.
We believe placemaking has to be the central-most focus for anyone involved in the creation of space and place if they wish that space or place to succeed.
Playability is all about placemaking.
For a neighbourhood, district or locality to work for families and children it has to inspire and enable playability – that’s got to be a core target for that community’s placemaking ambitions.
And just to reiterate, it’s not simply about providing a wonderful playground. It’s about enabling play.
For example, by making streets safer, slowing cars and reducing traffic and pavement mounted obstacles, and by widening pavements you can enable play.
Children can toddle, hop, skip, dance, scooter, cycle or push a dolly in a pram, and they can still be seen by their caregiver even if they race on ahead. They can be well away from traffic flow, they can meander and still other pedestrians will have space to move around them.
Or by changing the fabric of a pavement you can inspire a child’s play – put in a square of cobbles, put in some sparkling paving, throw in coloured bricks and blocks and watch what happens.
When those in charge of the fabric of a community open their minds to the concept of playability, wonderful things can happen.
KaBOOM’s Play Everywhere Challenge Open for Ideas
The Play Everywhere Challenge competition is open for submissions until May the 31st, and here’s what KaBOOM wants: – “We are seeking community-driven ideas and solutions that integrate play into everyday life and unexpected places – sidewalks, laundromats, vacant lots, bus stops, grocery stores, open streets, and beyond. We want to hear your ideas to reimagine existing public spaces as places that can support playfulness and help people to think differently about where play can occur. There’s no one model project – we’re hoping to see ideas that reflect the local context and community they’ll take place in.”
Finalists will be selected in June, their ideas will be coached and refined through July, with winners selected and announced in August.
The winning entries will then have 3 months for implementation – and in theory, the winners will see their ideas potentially replicated across urban communities all over America.
Can You Help Bring the Play Everywhere Challenge to Britain?
In Britain our children are suffering as council cutbacks remove spaces and places that encourage and enable children.
Libraries are closing, and as they close children are being cut off from access to free books.
That’s criminal when you consider the value books have for children.
Public swimming pools are being closed or bought out by private companies, limiting children’s access to affordable swimming. So unless parents can pay more for lessons or perhaps travel further for access to a subsidised pool, children lose out.
Community and arts centres are closing down when these previously offered families the likes of playgroups and workshops.
Free play is even being killed off in schools because of health and safety concerns, the challenge of a curriculum that attempts to mould children into a single mindset, and the fact that teachers simply have too much to do.
The last thing teachers are given time for is the creation of an inspiring environment for children to freely play in.
Everywhere you look in the UK the walls are closing in on children and crushing the life out of the idea of childhood – this has got to stop.
Vox Urban Appeal: Britain’s Children Need YOU!
Why reinvent the wheel? KaBOOM has shown us the way forward, and their Play Everywhere Challenge has given us the inspiration needed.
Britain’s children need what American children are rightly being given as a result of KaBOOM’s tireless work – i.e., the ability to freely and safely play anywhere.
So can YOU help bring the Play Everywhere Challenge to Britain?
Are you an influential build company – a planner – an architect – a placemaker – a teacher – a councillor – an MP – a fundraiser – a hell raiser (!) – a parent – a blogger?
Can you help to cement the importance of playability in the minds of British people by talking about it, implementing it, enabling it, tweeting about it or just simply living it?
If enough of us get behind the idea it can become a reality in Britain and give our children back their childhood.
In so doing we will ensure the wellbeing of children, which in turn will ensure the wellbeing of our society. The future is in our hands and it needs to begin right now.
Practical Things You Can Do to Bring Playability & the Play Everywhere Challenge to Britain
You can ask KaBOOM to help by emailing them – firstname.lastname@example.org – ask them to come to Britain!
You can create your own local Play Everywhere Challenge in your local community.
You can encourage your own children to show you what plaYce can look like, after all, children are pre-programmed to play anywhere, it’s only adults and society that limits and restricts their natural curiosity and ability to turn anything into a play-thing!
You can lobby your local council and your MP to enable playability locally and nationally.
You can take the notion to your next board meeting, to a school governor meeting or to the church in your town.
You can do it alone, with friends, a council, a corporation or an entire community.
There are no limits to what you can do – you just have to believe in the power of playability for the wellbeing of children, the wellbeing of society, the appeal of a given place, and the overall limitless value that supporting play can have for an entire community, forever.
We want to bring the Play Everywhere Challenge to Britain, and we want to see KaBOOM’s incredible efforts and achievements replicated across this great nation of ours. Will you help us?
All images courtesy of KaBOOM.