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New Research Finds 'Play Deserts' Common Throughout Deep South, Southwest

abandoned playground

Physical activity plays a vital role in encouraging healthy physical and mental development in children. However, new research from recently graduated Geography Ph.D. student, Jue Yang, reveals that hundreds of counties in the U.S. are in play deserts. These play deserts are areas where designated spaces for play are either nonexistent, unsafe, or inaccessible. According to Dr. Yang’s analysis, about 7% of the United States would qualify as a play desert. Many of the counties lacking adequate play space are grouped in rural and suburban areas of the Southern United States though several urban areas of the southern US lack quality play space as well. “Parents often consider a park the first place to go for their children to get some exercise and to play,” Said Dr. Yang. Corresponding author and UGA Geography Department Professor Lan Mu commented: “But even if you have the park near where you live, if the environment is not safe or it’s difficult to access, then people will not use it,” The researchers utilized various methods to visualize inadequate play spaces across the country including geographic information system (GIS) techniques, self-organizing mapping, and machine learning. They found that the Southwest is particularly lacking in play spaces that parents find acceptable and accomadating while the Southeast lacks affordable, accessible, and available play space. The researchers plan to release their interactive maps online to aid in the creation of play oasis by local and county-level leadership.

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