With experts continuing to predict a challenging economic forecast for the foreseeable future, officials in Arkansas will continue to face difficult budgetary choices in 2010.

Throughout the country, decision makers are frequently examining recreational programs and maintenance as targets for funding reductions. However, a growing amount of research strongly indicates unstructured play and ample play opportunities are critical to the development and overall well-being of children.

This predicament merits creative examination. Could unstructured play actually serve as a key cog in the search for low-cost and morale-boosting solutions in these strenuous times?

In an effort to highlight communities who value unstructured play among children, national non-profit KaBOOM! launched Playful City USA in 2007. A free national recognition program available to communities, Playful City USA spotlights both large and small scale initiatives designed to increase opportunities and awareness for play among children.

Playful City USA recognition is based upon an application process where communities make five commitments: creating a local play commission or task force, designing an annual action plan for play, conducting a playspace audit of publically accessible playspaces, identifying current spending on capital projects and maintenance of playspaces and proclaiming and celebrating an annual “Play Day.”

Cities as large as New York City and as small as Landfall, Minn. (population 700) have made these commitments and received the benefits of being recognized as Playful City USA communities. In 2009, 93 cities and towns from across the nation were honored by KaBOOM! as part of the Playful City USA program, including Springdale for the second consecutive year.

KaBOOM! selected Springdale for its dedication to play. The Springdale Parks and Recreation Department set a goal in 2009 to visit each elementary school to talk to the children about the value of play and persuade them to use public play areas more frequently. These visits, combined with other activities and interactions, culminated with a day of play on Aug. 22 at one of the City’s community parks featuring concerts, games, swimming and several other activities. To make it easier for children and parents to access playspaces, the City also intends to offer public play areas within one half mile of citizen residences.

Communities such as Springdale immediately reap benefits as Playful City USA honorees share innovative practices and easily implementable strategies to increase play opportunities for children – many with minimal financial requirements.

In addition to sharing innovative strategies, grants are typically associated with the Playful City USA program. Playful City USA communities also receive highway signs, awards and special incentive opportunities from KaBOOM!. Honored cities and towns are also included in a national media campaign touting the program and receive recognition at national municipal leadership and recreation conferences.

More information on the Playful City USA program is available at www.kaboom.org/playfulcityusa.

2009 KaBOOM! Playful City USA Communities
Allentown, Pa.; *Ankeny, Iowa; Annapolis, Md.; #Arlington, Texas; *Atlanta, Ga.; Auburn, Wash.; Baldwin Park, Calif.; Bismarck, N.D.; #Bloomington, Ind.; #Brentwood, Calif.; Casa Grande, Ariz.; #Cerritos, Calif.; *Chandler, Ariz.; Columbia, Ill.; Columbus, Ohio; Commerce City, Colo.; #Coolidge, Ariz.; Coral Gables, Fla.; Corpus Christi, Texas; *Creedmoor, N.C.; #Danville, Va.; Delray Beach, Fla.; #DeRidder, La.; *Dothan, Ala.; Durham, N.C.; #Encinitas, Calif.; Euless, Texas; Evans, Colo.; #Findlay, Ohio; Fishers, Ind.; *Gilbert, Ariz.; #Grand Prairie, Texas; #Green River, Wyo.; *Greenbelt, Md.; Greensboro, N.C.; Greenville, N.C.; Hamilton, N.J.; #Henderson, Nevada; #Hernando, Miss.; Hilo, Hawaii; Honolulu, Hawaii; #Huntsville, Ala.; Indianapolis, Ind.; *Kenner, La.; *Kerman, Calif.; Killeen, Texas; #La Mesa, Calif.; *Lake Charles, La.; *Lake Worth, Fla.; #Landfall, Minn.; Laramie, Wyo.; Las Cruces, N.M.; #Lauderdale Lakes, Fla.; Laurel, Md.; *Longview, Wash.; #Mercer Island, Wash.; Mesa, Ariz.; Miami Lakes, Fla.; Missoula, Mont.; #Murray, Ky.; #Nampa, Idaho; *New Lenox, Ill.; New Port Richey, Fla.; *New Roads, La.; #New York City, N.Y.; Niagara Falls, N.Y.; *Norfolk, Va.; #Northglenn, Colo.; #Orlando, Fla.; #Palm Bay, Fla.; #Parkland, Fla.; *Phoenix, Ariz.; *Portsmouth, Ohio; Richmond, Ind.; #Riverside, Calif.; #Safety Harbor, Fla.; #St. Petersburg, Fla.; San Antonio, Texas; San Bernardino, Calif.; *San Francisco, Calif.; Sanford, N.C.; *Shirley, Mass.; *Spartanburg, S.C.; #Springdale, Ark.; Takoma Park, Md.; Tempe, Ariz.; Thornton, Colo.; *Tucson, Ariz.; #West Palm Beach, Fla.; Wichita, Kan.; #York, Pa.; #Yorkville, Ill.; *Yuma, Ariz.

* Three-time honoree
# Two-time honoree