Play Across Boston

Project Description

[Note this project has ended.] Play Across Boston was undertaken by the HPRC in collaboration with Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society and a broad-based community advisory board. Building on momentum from the Boston Youth Sports Congress in 1997–1998, Sport in Society began several community engagement activities. From 1999 to 2001, Play Across Boston led a comprehensive community-based assessment of physical activity programs and facilities for Boston youth. The goal of this project was to document youth sports and physical activity resources in Boston in order to understand how community resources and individual and household characteristics combine to influence levels of physical activity.

The project created a baseline assessment and prototype monitoring system documenting resources that offer year-round afterschool sports and physical activity for youth in Boston. Findings were disseminated to community leaders to facilitate data-driven action for reducing observed disparities in physical activity opportunities for youth in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Boston’s Mayor Menino called the Play Across Boston work a “playbook” for future sports and recreation planning by the city of Boston and its partners. This project resulted in documentation of substantial disparities in participation in 237 different out of school time programs in the city.

Activities were conducted to monitor ongoing citywide efforts in reducing documented disparities in access to physical activity facilities. Activities included a 2007 follow-up assessment of playground quality among a subset of public parks, coupled with a survey of local bicycle and pedestrian transportation infrastructure that might influence access to these public resources. City budget data were also reviewed to estimate citywide playground renovation rates before and after the Play Across Boston baseline. Findings indicated improvements in playground quality and an equitable park renovation schedule since the baseline assessment.

Principal Investigator: Steven Gortmaker
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Funding Dates:
October 1, 1999–September 30, 2002; October 1, 2004–September 30, 2009
Contact: Jessica Barrett


Journal Articles

Hannon C, Cradock A, Gortmaker SL, Wiecha J, El Ayadi A, Keefe L, Harris A. Play Across Boston: a community initiative to reduce disparities in access to after-school physical activity programs for inner-city youths. Prev Chronic Dis. 2006 Jul; 3(3): A100.

Cradock AL, Kawachi I, Colditz GA, Hannon C, Melly SJ, Wiecha J, Gortmaker SL. Playground safety and access in Boston neighborhoods. Am J Prev Med. 2005 May; 28(4): 357–63.

Barrett JL, Hannon C, Keefe L, Gortmaker SL, Cradock AL. Playground renovations and quality at public parks in Boston, Massachusetts, 1996-2007. Prev Chronic Dis. 2011 Jul; 8(4): A72.


Cradock A, El Ayadi A, Gortmaker S, Hannon C, Sobol A, and Wiecha J. Play Across Boston: Summary Report. Harvard Prevention Research Center Active Facts Report #01-2002. December 2002.