10 Things That Make a Great Park: Part II

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Lucas Park, Richmond, CA

In Part I of “10 Things That Make a Great Park” HAB45 presented our vision for equitable parks and 5 key characteristics that make a great park for young children and their families: safety, innovative play equipment, seating, restrooms, and water fountains. Today we’re bringing you Part II of our “Great Park” series, where we highlight 5 more “great park” criteria that are part of our vision for healthy, equitable parks.

maintenance Keeping a park clean and well-maintained makes the park an appealing place to spend time and be physically active, and it can increase safety. While every park user can do her part to keep the park clean, it is the ultimately responsibility of the city where the park is located to ensure that parks are in good working order. A well-maintained park attracts families with young children and shows community members that the park is being cared for. Timely upkeep of trash removal, landscape maintenance, and equipment repairs are all important parts of keeping parks safe, clean, and pleasant public spaces.


In Contra Costa County, summers can get scorching hot, which calls for some sun protection. Wearing sunscreen and a sunhat and drinking plenty of water are all great first lines of defense. But without shade, it can become unbearable for folks to play outside. Shade keeps everyone out of the sun’s harmful UV rays. The presence of shade structures, shade sails, umbrellas, and trees help provide cooler areas for parents, breastfeeding mothers, and little kids to relax and escape the heat.


Little kids love to run around and get their wiggles out (and it’s healthy for them to do so). That’s why sports fields made our list. Sports fields like basketball courts, baseball diamonds, and soccer fields are all great places for kids to get some cardio in while learning how to take turns and cooperate with other kids. These group activities will never go out of style. Also, when not in use for team sports, these fields offer a great place for little kids to engage in unstructured, active play.

Federal law requires public spaces to be accessible to people with disabilities. A park that is compliant with the American with Disabilities Act standards, is a park where all children can play and be kids. Ground level play structures, ramps, and surfacing are important factors for creating an accessible play environment.

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Photo of Elm Playlot in Richmond, CA. Learn more about this and other great parks in Richmond at Pogopark.org. Pogo park is an entrepreneurial community-based nonprofit in Richmond, dedicated to building better parks and playspaces for children and healthier communities in this country’s most underserved neighborhoods.

Fenced in playspaces or “tot lots” are a great park features for families with young children. When a playspace is fenced in, parents have less to worry about, so they can relax and enjoy the park too. A fence or gate provides protection against busy streets and other potential hazards around the park by preventing little kids wandering out of the play area out of sight of their parents.

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That concludes our two part series, “10 Things That Make a Great Park” (see Part I here). Keep in mind that these are HAB45’s top “great park” criteria. If there are other park features that are important to you that we haven’t captured here, we want to hear about it. Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Photo credits: 6. http://fischersfinds.com/georgia-hanford-park-a-park-located-off-the-beaten-path-in-mason-city-iowa/ 7. http://www.shade-n-net.com/shade-structures/recreational/dog-parks/ 8. https://www.sammamish.us/News.aspx?ID=511 9. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/06/nyregion/nyregionspecial2/06Rplayground.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

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10 Things That Make a Great Park: Part I

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Playground located at Nicholl Park in Richmond, CA

At HAB45 we know that outdoor play is healthy for young children and we promote active play however we can. But we also know that when it comes to access to quality parks, it matters where a families lives. Many communities in Contra Costa do not have equitable access to safe, appealing, beautiful parks where young children can play. This means that many families and their children do not have the same opportunities to lead healthy lives.

Over the last few years, we’ve partnered with strong parent advocates sponsored by First 5 Contra Costa to assess parks and playspaces across Contra Costa County. Through this work, we’ve learned that it’s true that parks in low-income neighborhoods tend to be lower in quality: namely, less safe with fewer amenities and poorer maintenance.

HAB45 and the parent advocate partners have identified key characteristics that make great parks and we’ve used these criteria to assess parks across Contra Costa. Naming these criteria helps us to articulate our vision for healthy, equitable parks. In the first installment of this two-part series, we list five characteristics that make a park a great one for young children and their families.


Community safety is number one on our list, and we bet it’s on yours as well. All families with young children should be able to walk to and play in their local parks without fearing injury or violence. Even if a park has great play equipment, if a parent or child doesn’t feel safe there, understandably they aren’t going to go. Through our park assessments, families frequently cited lack of safety as a reason they would not take young children to nearby parks and playgrounds. Community safety is a complex issue related to a tangle of underlying conditions: income inequality, lack of educational and employment opportunity, divestment of public resources…the list goes on. There are solutions to make communities safer that go beyond law enforcement and that take into account the dignity of all people. We call upon decision-makers to take an innovative, public health approach to preventing community violence, so all community members have the same opportunities for outdoor play, physical activity, and health.


Parks should be joyful spaces for little kids and their families. Play equipment should not only be safe to use and well-maintained in order to prevent injury. It should also be innovative, age-appropriate, and fun. Themed elements, public interactive art, gardens, and free-standing activity panels are all great additions to a park. We love a good tot lot too. In partnership with local parent advocates, HAB45 has identified and mapped parks in PittsburgAntioch, and Bay Point with great, age-appropriate play equipment for little ones.


Seating is an important park amenity, especially for parents. It’s also nice to have for mothers who are breastfeeding their babies. Benches and picnic tables located in shaded or partially shaded areas are great for community gatherings and for parents to use while they watch their children play. Adding some benches to a park is an easy win for cities looking to improve local park quality.


What’s a parent to do when his little one needs to use the restroom at the park and there’s no restroom to be found? Or maybe there’s a restroom, but it’s locked or in disrepair (gross). Working, available, clean, and well-maintained restrooms are essential to a great park. Access to restroom will encourage more community members to use the park for parties, gatherings, and community events, thus increasing the safety of the park by increasing the sense of neighborhood ownership and the number of eyes on the park.


Here’s a good question to ask a five-year-old: Q: What do you, a flower, and a dog have in common? A: We’re all living beings that need water to live. Clean, well maintained, working water fountains are a vital component to any healthy space. Staying hydrated is important for kids and adults alike, especially when playing in the heat. Availability of an appealing water source also ensures that when thirst strikes, there’s an onsite healthy alternative to sugary drinks.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for Part II of “10 Things That Make a Great Park” where we list our last five great park criteria.

And in the meantime, check out our maps of some of our favorite parks and playspaces in PittsburgAntioch, and Bay Point.

Photo credits:Photo 1: www.essence.com/sites/default/files/images/embed/woman-holding-child-hand.jpg; Photo 2: www.cedarworks.com; Photo 3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bench; Photo 4: www.coloprecast.com/?page_id=203; Photo 5: http://purewatervision.com/camelbak-clear-review/

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Where are the best parks?

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According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, toddlers and preschool aged children need at least 60 minutes of unstructured, active play every day.

Unstructured play (or child-initiated, exploratory physical activity) has loads of benefits to early childhood health. Playing outside in parks and open spaces promotes healthy physical activity by encouraging young children to run, skip, jump, and shake their sillies out. Playing with friends teaches little ones how to share and take turns. And what better way for a child to learn about nature than to find a wiggly worm or allow a butterfly to land on her nose?

Many families like to visit local parks and playgrounds, but how can families find out which ones are the best? 

Enter KaBOOM!, a national non-profit dedicated to saving play for America’s children. We’ve partnered with KaBOOM!, First 5 Contra Costa and East County Regional Group to create bilingual maps of the best playspaces for little ones in the East Contra Costa County cities of Pittsburg, Antioch, and Bay Point

KaBOOM! also provides an interactive website called Map of Play, a “playspace finder and a way to gather data on where playspaces exist, the condition of existing playspaces, and where playspaces are needed, so that we all can participate in improving the state of play in our own communities.”

map of playMap of Play allows local residents to enter information about neighborhood parks and playgrounds. All you have to do is enter a zip code or city and a map of play space near you will appear. There’s a mobile phone app too, which uses your smart phone’s GPS or a zip code to locate playgrounds near you. The best thing about Map of Play is that it’s user generated. That means your neighbors found the parks on the map and uploaded information about them for the benefit of others.

So, what if you search for parks in your area and don’t see any parks listed? That means that no user has entered any information yet. This is your chance to share your expertise on what you know about playspaces in your area.

If you are interested in uploading information about parks in your neighborhood, here are some key things keep an eye out for during your next visit to a local park:

  1. Is the play equipment age appropriate? Some play structures will have signs to let you know what ages should play on it.
  2. Is the playspace fenced in?
  3. Are there restrooms and water fountains? Are they functional?
  4. Are there sidewalks leading to the park? Safe crosswalks at the park entrances?
  5. Are there benches around the playspace? Picnic tables or BBQ pits?
  6. Is the park clean? Do you see litter or graffiti? Are there trash cans available?
  7. Are there other games and activities available for young children and families, like tic-tac-toe panels, sandboxes, walking paths, basketball courts, or soccer fields?

You can upload photos to the site too. Be sure to take pictures while you’re there so folks visiting the site can see how good your park is.

Going on a park outing and sharing information on KaBOOM! Map of Play is a great way to both ensure that your children or children in your care are getting enough physical activity and a wonderful way to share what you know about parks in your community. You’re the expert! Share what you know about a local park today.

Adapted from the July 2014 edition of the Contra Costa Child Care Council Nutrition Edition.

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Announcing: The HAB45 Public Policy Agenda

In late Spring we announced our Public Policy Agenda to the HAB45 Leadership Council. Today, we’re letting everyone know what we stand for and where we’re headed. 

Beginning in early 2013, HAB45 embarked on a new strategic effort to influence local public policies related to prevention of early childhood obesity. The HAB45 Executive Committee convened in March 2014 to collaboratively determine our top three policy priority areas that would become our Public Policy Agenda to:

HighlandRanchPromote Parks Master Plans: Access to safe places to move and play is an essential ingredient for early childhood health. HAB45 will advocate for city or countywide park plans that serve the needs of families with young children, including community goals to increase early childhood active play, preserve existing parks, form new parks, foster park safety, and create 0-5 play spaces.

nosodaSupport Policies that Reduce Consumption of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSBs): SSBs are a unique driver of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay. HAB45 supports policies that reduce availability, accessibility, and consumption of SSBs in Contra Costa communities, particularly among children ages 0-5. We are in the process of determining our role in supporting local policies that limit children’s access to SSBs, such as SSB taxation policies that generate revenue for early childhood obesity prevention.

breastfeedingAdvocate for Breastfeeding Accommodation: Breastfeeding is healthy for babies, moms, families, and the environment. California law requires all employers to provide adequate break time and a private space to accommodate employees who are breastfeeding. HAB45 will promote policies that ensure all women who wish to breastfeed are able to do so with ease.

These three policy areas fit within our existing work streams and represent the three major content areas of our work: physical activity promotion, decreasing availability of unhealthy food products, and breastfeeding promotion, all for children ages 0-5.

Our next step is to determine the specifics of our policy advocacy work. Stay tuned!

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