Bringing Out the Best: Rochester, NY

How one city plays on the playground—and in traffic

With the advent of Playworks’ 20th Anniversary and our aim of reaching 3.5 million kids in 7,000 schools by 2020, I've launched a blog that I am calling "Bringing out the Best." I welcome your ideas and suggestions for stories! 

Since beginning this blog, I’ve covered outdoor programs and early childhood education; longtime play advocates and accessible playgrounds. Today’s column is a first, though, for writing about the impact of play on an entire city: Rochester, NY. Since 2008, Healthi Kids, a community-based grassroots coalition, and the City of Rochester have teamed up to make play a priority.

Healthi Kids focused from the start on ensuring that Rochester’s kids got a great recess. Thanks to their advocacy, the Rochester City School District school board adopted an active recess policy in 2011, making Rochester one of only 20% of school districts to require 20 minutes of recess each day. Last year, parents raised concerns that recess was taken away as a punishment, and Healthi Kids worked with the district to ban that form of discipline.  

But recess is just the beginning. Healthi Kids and Rochester are incorporating play into the landscape throughout the city.

Five years ago, the staff at Healthi Kids worked with neighborhood groups to conduct a playability study to find out where kids were playing and what the barriers were to play in neighborhoods. Neighborhood groups set action plans and developed projects they felt would improve play on their streets. This past summer, Healthi Kids launched their #PlayROCs campaign, encouraging play every day—at school and at home—and promoting the myriad of opportunities for playing in non-traditional places and during any season.

The City of Rochester has embraced this spirit of play for kids and grown-ups, too. Their BoulevArt initiative puts art on streets to promote traffic calming in areas where speed bumps are not realistic. They have also partnered with Healthi Kids to create additional pilot programs to promote safe places to play. Rochester’s play advocates are demonstrating that play is a powerful tool for economic development.

We learn through play, and when I talked with Jenn Beideman and Dina Faticone from Healthi Kids, I was struck by their commitment to continuous learning. Healthi Kids draws from experiences with everything from active design in the UK to education policies in Hawaii, California, and North Carolina.

As a result, Rochester is poised to become a model for the rest of the US in leveraging the power of play to bring out the best in everyone.

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