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Opening schoolyards to the public after hours boosts park access, says study

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New analysis by the Trust for Public Land finds that more than 19.6 million people in the U.S. could benefit from access to public schoolyards

A colorful playground setup in front of an old brick school building. Shutterstock

Public schools are sitting on a goldmine of land, and much of it is woefully underutilized. When schools shut down on weeknights, weekends, and in summers, oftentimes their schoolyards shut down too.

A new study by the Trust for Public Land is making the case for opening up schoolyards to the public as a way to expand green space and playgrounds for cities that are lacking. According to the Trust, giving the public formal access to all public schoolyards would grant park access to more than 19.6 million people in the U.S., including 5.2 million children.

The organization’s research found that more than 100 million people in the country don’t have access to a park within a 10-minute walk of home. These playground deserts are problematic for children who grow up with little space to explore and exercise.

Some cities have already started shared-access programs that open school grounds to the public during off-hours. In 2007, New York City started its Schoolyards to Playgrounds program, which promised to transform 290 schoolyards into community parks (it has yet to fully reach that goal). On the other side of the country, San Francisco’s Shared Schoolyard Project opened 50 school playgrounds to the public, which has added an additional 38 acres of open space to the city.

The Trust also laid out which cities could benefit most from opening up schoolyards: Los Angeles leads the pack, followed by Houston, Phoenix, and San Antonio. Some cities are hesitant to buy in—the plan requires money and extra upkeep—but there’s no doubt it would make cities a much more vibrant place to live for kids.

You can dive into the full report here.