Play Across Boston

Project Description

PAB logo3 (play_across_boston_logo_206x191.jpg)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. Later, 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, PhD
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Funding Dates:
October 1, 1999–September 30, 2002; October 1, 2004–September 30, 2009
For more information, contact Jessica Barrett.



The Play Across Boston research team welcomes other cities and towns to look at recreational programs and facilities for its young people. If you and/or your organization plan to use these data sources in the Boston area, permission must be received from the authors prior to use.

Play Across Boston Facility Survey

Play Across Boston Student Survey

Play Across Boston 2000 Program Survey


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.

Neighborhood Series

These active fact sheets detail the types of sports and programs young people were participating in, as well as the availability of recreational facilities, by neighborhood according to the Play Across Boston baseline assessment.

The Harvard Prevention Research Center is a member of the Prevention Research Centers Program, supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cooperative agreement number 1-U48-DP-001946.