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Boston Collaboration for Youth Physical Activity


Host Institution
Harvard University (previous center): Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity

Health Topics
Physical activity

Public playgrounds require periodic maintenance to ensure the equipment and area meet safety standards and to appeal to youth as a place for physical activity. Limited resources are available for this maintenance. Researchers can provide data from observational assessments to help community leaders decide how to best use limited funds to maintain playgrounds for optimal use and enjoyment by residents.

From 2000–2001, the center staff and partners conducted a citywide baseline assessment of Boston playgrounds using an assessment tool they had tested and found reliable. The tool enables researchers to rate 24 playground items (e.g., climbing equipment, swings), ease of supervision of children in the play area, and the condition of playground surfaces. The rating scale is based on safety standards of the city of Boston, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. A playground quality score was calculated based on the percentage of playground features meeting the quality standards. Higher scores indicate better playground quality. The baseline assessment showed that low-income neighborhoods had low-scoring playgrounds compared with those in other city areas. Researchers and community partners held meetings with city residents and local government officials to share the assessment findings. In 2007, center staff conducted follow-up studies to determine if sharing the findings with decision makers was associated with allocation of resources that could lead to improvements in playground quality among the initially low-scoring parks.

Researchers calculated playground renovation rates using playground improvements documented in the Boston Parks and Recreation Department’s capital budgets from fiscal years 1996 through 2007. Budgets were analyzed for funds allocated to playground renovation during the 6 year periods before (fiscal year [FY] 1996-FY 2001) and after (FY 2002-FY2007) the playground quality baseline assessment and sharing of results. Researchers found that overall, the renovation rates and the percentage of parks that were renovated across the city were similar before and after the playground quality data were shared. Compared with parks in other city areas, parks in low-income areas tended to be renovated at a slightly lower rate before the data were shared. However, researchers found that after the playground assessments were conducted and the information shared with community partners, lower-scoring parks were more likely to have been renovated than higher scoring ones.

In 2007, the researchers revisited a subsample (18) of low-scoring parks in low-income neighborhoods to assess and follow up on potential changes in playground quality. Researchers found that the average playground quality score improved between the baseline and follow-up visits. This finding supports the results from the capital budget analysis, which stated that 2 of the 18 parks were renovated before (FY 1996-FY 2001) and 13 of the 18 after (FY 2002-FY 2007) baseline assessment; 3 were not renovated during the 12 year period.

This study suggests that collecting and sharing playground quality scores with city officials and community partners may have helped decision makers ensure that playground renovation was completed in the parks where it was most needed. The center continues to provide community partners with technical assistance on monitoring playground quality.

Barrett JL, Hannon C, Keefe L, Gortmaker SL, Cradock AL. Playground renovations and quality at public parks in Boston, Massachusetts, 1996-2007. Preventing Chronic Disease 2011;8(4). Available at
Research Setting
City/Town | Urban area
Race or Ethnicity
No specific focus
No specific focus
Age Group
Children (4-11 years) | Adolescents (12-17 years)
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Principal Investigator
Steven Gortmaker

Project Identifier
Boston Collaboration for Youth Physical Activity - Core Project (2004-2009)

Funding Source
PRC Program

Project Status
Not active