Transforming Parks into “Magical” Places for Play: Evaluating the “Meet Me at the Park” Play Spaces Grant Program


  • Sandy J Slater Concordia University Wisconsin
  • Oksana Pugach University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Marina Ragonese-Barnes Erikson Institute Herr Research Center
  • Rachel Banner National Recreation and Park Association



park renovations, underserved communities, play spaces


In 2017 the National Recreation and Park Association launched an initiative entitled “Meet Me at the Park: Transforming Parks and Improving Access to Play Spaces.” The purpose of this grant opportunity was to fund innovative and scalable projects that transform parks and improve access to play spaces for kids of all abilities (aged 3-11) and their families in underserved communities. To date, there have been three funding cycles. Each cycle funded a total of 25 park projects (Sample N=75) that were tasked with providing access to renovated play spaces to increase physical activity in the most underserved communities using innovative and scalable solutions. A sample of 24 parks (8 per cycle) were selected for an in-depth evaluation using a pre-post study design. Two primary data collection activities were conducted: 1) collecting systematic observations of play and recreation in communities (SOPARC) pre- and post-renovation of play spaces; and 2) collecting intercept surveys from 32 adults pre- and post-renovation of play spaces. SOPARC results showed significant increases in daily park use (20 vs. 37 visitors on average per day at baseline compared to post-renovation), and a 31.5% increase (p<0.001) in the number of people engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA). Intercept survey results showed a 17.54 percentage point increase in the number of survey participants visiting the park for the first time. There was a 26.73 percentage point increase in the number of respondents stating that the park gave the kids a chance to experience something new and a 19.32 percentage point increase in respondents stating that the child they were with played more since using the park post-renovation. Results of the evaluation show that the investments in play space renovations were positively associated with increased park use, MVPA, and children’s park-based play. This information is important for park and recreation agencies, park and recreation advocates and elected officials to show that high quality, well-maintained parks are essential to improve public health outcomes and use of park spaces.





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