Baltimore kicks off playspace equality scheme for USA

The US city of Baltimore is the first official partner of play equality champion KABOOM!’s 25 in 5 Initiative to End Playspace Inequity.

KABOOM!’s five-year, $250 million plan to accelerate efforts towards achieving playspace equity across the USA aims to give every child access to the same opportunities – irrespective of where they live.

The ’25 in 5′ scheme – which was launched earlier this year, and features a $14m donation by the philanthropist MacKenzie Scott – is in response to what the non-profit calls the ‘harsh realties’ faced by many youngsters in the aftermath of the pandemic.

As the first city to be publicly announced, Baltimore City Public Schools (City Schools)Baltimore City Recreation and Parks (BCRP) and KABOOM!, supported by Brandon M Scott, mayor of Baltimore, will get started on what it describes as the ‘urgent work ahead to ensure every child in Baltimore has access to places to play where they live and learn’.

“Achieving playspace equity across Baltimore will send the message that we believe in our youth and know they’re capable of the brightest possible future,” said Mayor Scott.

‘Playgrounds profoundly impact our young people’

“Playgrounds profoundly impact our young people: they’re a place to sharpen skills that will serve them for a lifetime, build friendships, and feel a sense of belonging. In line with my administration’s mission to prioritise youth, we want every young person across the city to be able to step onto a brand-new playground that they designed and their community built just for them so they can understand that they matter and that their community leaders see them and recognise their needs.”

Playgrounds in parks and schoolyards are vital resources for Baltimore kids, says KABOOM!, helping to meet an urgent need to strengthen the physical, social, and emotional health of children growing up under the weight of the pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the essential value and need for easily accessible parks and playspaces, especially in Black and Brown communities that are already bearing the brunt of disinvestment and lack of resources due to systemic racism.

2019 analysis of Baltimore City Public Schools’ playgrounds by KABOOM! found that city schools receives hundreds of millions less in capital funds each year compared to surrounding school systems that serve a comparable number of students. This assessment clearly outlines the specific need for playspaces, and KABOOM! and Baltimore City Public Schools now know the amount of investment in kids needed to address the specific playspace inequity in City Schools.

Dr Sonja Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, said they ‘could not wait to get started’

“Our top priority is the educational, emotional, and social success of our students. Accessible and safe playspaces like these are critical to those efforts. This initiative with KABOOM! is one more step to ensuring our students have great facilities to learn and grow,” she added.

‘We cannot wait to get started’

Addressing the needs of children and creating safe spaces for them to heal and recover post-pandemic is critical to their well-being, and a top priority in Baltimore, says KABOOM!

KABOOM! has a long history of working alongside partners and communities across Baltimore to build kid-designed playspaces that can spark joy and foster a sense of belonging for the kids who are often denied opportunities to thrive. In 2015, following Freddie Gray’s death and the civil unrest that resulted, KABOOM! doubled down on investing in Baltimore’s kids. KABOOM! partnered with Family League of Baltimore and Baltimore Corps to launch “Play More, B’More,” an initiative that built 25 playspaces – 12 of which were playgrounds at Baltimore City Public Schools.

In this latest phase of work across Baltimore, a key focus is to continue to build partnerships with communities, nonprofits, municipal agencies, and other organisations that provide a network of playspaces where kids live and learn, and promote health and well-being through the creation and transformation of playspaces in communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

Lysa Ratliff, CEO of KABOOM!, said: “For decades, segregation, disinvestment, and depopulation have forced Baltimore city leaders to make seemingly impossible choices about where to invest in playgrounds – iconic and critical public infrastructure for every child.

“Alongside City Schools, BCRP, Mayor Scott, and our network of committed partners, we can drive the positive systemic change necessary to ensure that every kid in Baltimore has an amazing place to play, learn, and unlock their greatest potential. And we will continue to rally together so that the progress made in Baltimore is possible in every city across the country.”

Author: Simon Weedy

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