Chicago Plays Informational Interviews Snapshot

In 2009, the City of Chicago began conducting needs assessments for playgrounds within the city’s expansive system of public parks. The assessment team identified over 300 playgrounds in parks across the city in need of repairs or renovations.

In March 2013, the City began the Chicago Plays! program, a five-year playground renovation project for selected parks. In the fall of the same year, advocates representing parks across the city applied to receive the first round of playground renovations. Sixty-one of the 100 parks nominated were selected for this round.

The Illinois Prevention Research Center is working with community stakeholders to promote community-wide physical activity by increasing community access to and use of public parks. Lead investigator Dr. Sandy Slater and her team worked to evaluate the Chicago Plays! Program and understand its impacts on parks and community health.

The research team sought the assistance of Chicago Park District staff to create an interview guide for use with select park representatives. Researchers asked participants to describe their experiences in park advocacy work, applying for Chicago Plays! renovations, and comment on any assistance or support received from the Chicago Park District. Researchers also asked them to reflect on the outcomes of the renovations and summarize their hopes for their parks going forward.

Interviewees reported that the Chicago Plays! program led to increased park use. Renovations addressed many of the safety issues that had long kept youth and families away from their neighborhood parks, in some cases for generations. The most frequently referenced renovations included repairs to swings, the spreading of new surface wood chips, and the replacement of sandboxes and other equipment deemed outdated and hazardous.

One interviewee compared her local park before and after the intervention and echoed many of the experiences shared by fellow interviewees: “Before, because a lot of the equipment was broken and damaged, the kids would actually just sit around…versus actually utilizing the playground. But now, every time you go by, there’s tons of kids. Which is a really great feeling, that they’re using what we have.”

In addition, many park representatives explained that, in addition to being structurally safer, new playground equipment encouraged play in a wider age range of children. Several interviewees praised the new swings designed for infants while others appreciated new climbing structures for older children.

“There’s a whole range of ages at that park now,” said one interviewee, “that weren’t there for the past five, ten years.”

After the renovations, most interviewees also reported an increased sense of community pride and well-being in the park and more positive interactions with other park patrons.

“It’s more pleasant,” remarked one interviewee. “People see that something is nice in the neighborhood and they want to keep it, so they begin to communicate more, [and be] more sensitive with each other as well as with the playground itself.”

These interviews with Chicago Plays! applicants offered meaningful insights into the park improvement efforts across the city. In addition to this, they also highlighted opportunities to further support the efforts of diverse park advocates by creating more consistent opportunities for collaboration, leveraging positive relationships with park supervisors, supporting efforts to provide on-going park maintenance and supporting community engagement efforts.

To read the full summary of the interviews, click here.

About the image. Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.