The Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), announced that the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) has joined its efforts to help make communities across America healthier. Over the next year, BCBSA will support the creation of 40 new Play Streets – roads closed to traffic and open to the community to encourage physical activity. Play Streets offer a high-impact way to encourage more physical activity, particularly in neighborhoods that lack open space.
“We know that, for a number of reasons, most kids do not get the recommended 60 minutes a day of physical activity,” said PHA CEO Lawrence A. Soler. “Lack of safe places to play, limited access to playgrounds or parks, and busy schedules are just a few of the reasons kids aren’t as active as they used to be. As a leader in the health insurance industry, BCBSA understands that ending the childhood obesity epidemic is going to take work from all of us, at all levels-including addressing the challenges that lay before us in a creative manner.”
Robin Moore, Director of the Natural Learning Initiative says, “The idea of play streets trace back decades, but they have become increasingly more important. As parents and families are busy working, play streets are needed to provide accessible areas where children can be supervised at play. Growth and fast moving cars are a tangible threat to play areas, but having a policy, such as Play Streets, that manages the street environment in favor of children, can provide small, low-cost improvements to an area.”
PHA and BCBSA are inviting communities across the United States to apply for funding that will support local efforts to get kids and community members out and active by creating at least four Play Streets per locality. PHA’s Play Streets program is flexible, allowing localities to tailor the program to their needs and resources. Cities can close one to two blocks at a time, partner with farmers’ markets or parks to maximize space, or close many miles of streets.
Ten recipients will receive funds, technical assistance, and communications and marketing support from PHA and BCBSA for Play Street events in their city or town. Winning cities will be chosen based on their ongoing commitment to increasing physical activity among kids; health education and programming; sustainability of the program; and community development.
The Play Streets program is one solution to the low-activity lifestyles hurting America’s youth. Participating cities have seen an immediate impact. In New York City, sixty-four percent of the kids using Play Streets reported that, if not for the local Play Street, they would have been engaged in a sedentary activity; 71 percent reported that they walked to the Play Street, an added benefit. The same survey also pointed to the promise that Play Streets holds for local economic development; area businesses reported that foot traffic around the Play Streets increased greatly.
Moore also believes Play Streets “humanize the street and create a new social atmosphere where people can meet, interact, and look after one another.” Open areas, like Play Streets, allow people to engage with one another and promote the social capital which is so vital to thriving communities.
PHA released the Request for Proposal, available at www.ahealthieramerica.org/playstreetsRFP. RFP submissions are due on August 29, 2012.