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What Draws People to Playgrounds?

Updated: Aug 20

By Charlie McCabe


According to the National Study of Neighborhood Parks published back in 2018, the number-one reason why people visit parks is to go to playgrounds with their children. In fact, 25% of all visitors cited this as their number-one reason. Further, the study, performed over a period of several summer seasons in 155 parks in 27 cities, found that if you add one additional piece of play equipment, you increase that playground's usage by 50 percent.

Talk about a great return on investment! These and a few other key findings demonstrated the ways in which parks can not only boost physical activity in all age groups (from children to seniors), they can also increase usage by underserved groups, namely teenage girls and senior citizens.


Dr. Deborah Cohen, the lead researcher in that study and now with Kaiser Permanente Health, partnered with Studio Ludo of Philadelphia in 2021 to expand on the knowledge of playgrounds. Their National Study of Playgrounds, based on lessons from the 2015 London Study of Playgrounds, focuses on 60 playgrounds in 10 cities. Among their goals was to compare usage and physical activity in more traditional neighborhood playgrounds and contrast it with more innovative (or destination) playgrounds that are being built in more parks across the United States.


The team used several research protocols, again building on work and efforts used for the National Study of Neighborhood Parks. The first was SOPARC-G (system of observing play and recreation in communities–granular), allowing researchers to examine how individual play elements are being used in a playground. They also looked at Dwell Time—how long a person stays at a specific location or amenity, and finally Play Loops, the observation of movement through a playground by a single person. The team is still working through the data and will be reporting additional findings later in 2022, but I wanted to share some of the findings with you.


Interestingly, they found that innovative playgrounds see about the same level of moderate to vigorous physical activity as traditional playgrounds, which was a bit surprising. That said, innovative playgrounds get more usage than traditional playgrounds, largely because of the amenities present, with more things to do and more ways to interact with the features in such playgrounds.


Studio Ludo has been publishing initial key findings on their social media accounts:

This is the key finding: Easy access or close proximity to a park with a playground is the determining factor, resulting in more frequent and longer visits. This finding reinforces what the 10 minute walk campaign from the Trust for Public Land, NRPA, and ULI have been focusing on for a number of years now. The following are other factors, some of them surprising:







I'm sure that there will be more to share in the coming months. In the meantime, walk to your local park and enjoy the playground. And if there's not one within a ten minute walk, start thinking about advocating for one!


© Copyright 2022, Charlie McCabe Consulting LLC

Link to all of the stories in this parks series here.

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