Poor neighborhoods: Safe playgrounds

Elizabeth C. Powell*, Erin J. Ambardekar, Karen M. Sheehan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Although unstructured physical play is helpful to child development and physical activity is important to obesity prevention, up-to-date information about playgrounds and playground hazards in urban areas is limited. Local data are needed to identify problems and target interventions. The aim of this study was to describe the hazards in playgrounds located in low-income (median $28,728-38,915) and very low-income (median $18,266-18,955) Chicago neighborhoods. Using a standardized on-site survey (National Program for Playground Safety), two investigators reviewed seventy-eight public playgrounds for hazards related to playground design, safe surfaces, supervision, and equipment design and maintenance. The design of 56 playgrounds (72%) posed no hazards. One playground lacked protection from motor vehicles, and 21 had minor flaws. One playground had an asphalt surface; all others bad protective surfaces, usually wood chips. The chips were too thin in many places, and in 15 playgrounds (19%), at least one concrete footing was exposed. Trash was a common surface hazard (68%). Although most equipment was safe (swings of soft materials and appropriate platform barriers), many pieces needed repairs. Equipment maintenance hazards included gaps (44%) and missing (38%) or broken parts (35%). In 13 of 39 playgrounds (33%) where children were observed playing, one or more were unsupervised. Playgrounds in very low-income neighborhoods more often had trash in the fall zone and exposed footings (P < .01 for each); there were no differences between low and very low-income neighborhoods in playground design or equipment maintenance. We conclude that playgrounds in low-income Chicago neighborhoods are of good design and have appropriate surfaces. Needed improvements include attention to wood chip depth, the removal of trash from the fall zone, and equipment repairs. Greater adult supervision is warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)403-410
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Urban Health
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2005


  • Playground
  • Poverty
  • Urban

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Urban Studies
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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