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City of Peoria Named Finalist in KaBOOM! $1 Million Play Everywhere Challenge

Competition will fund play spaces in unexpected places in cities across America.

Last week, the City of Peoria was selected as a finalist in the Play Everywhere Challenge, a $1 million national competition that will award outside-the-box ideas to make play easy, available, and fun for kids and families in cities across the U.S. The Challenge is hosted by KaBOOM!, a national non-profit dedicated to bringing balanced and active play into the daily lives of all children, particularly those growing up in poverty in America.

The City of Peoria, in partnership with the Peoria City/County Health Department and the University of Illinois Extension, created an innovative plan to transform vacant lots into Lots of Fun! within the South side of Peoria. The project was selected as a finalist out of a pool of more than 1,000 applications nationwide. Winners will be announced in early fall, 2016.

The Challenge, developed in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Target, Playworld, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the National Endowment for the Arts, attracted an outpouring of creative ideas to spark kids’ imaginations and get their bodies moving. The City of Peoria’s idea came from a passion for getting kids more involved in play in their daily activities, such as waiting at a bus stop. The foundational assessment used to identify the area of need and potential interventions was designed by a team of graduate students from the University of Illinois School of Architecture.

“The design team of four graduate students, Elisa Laurini, Claire McDermott, Kristen Reifschneider, and Elsa Reifsteck, reconceived the neighborhood through the eyes of children by creating a ‘child-sized’ environment, converting vacant lots to a variety of enriching and safe areas for art, education, and play that are close to home and easy to access via defined, protected routes. Responding to community commentary and research about the environment’s role in human development, the design offers opportunities for independent exploration and play to support mental and physical well-being while building upon resources currently existing within the neighborhood,” said Professor Lynne Dearborn from the U of I School of Architecture.

“We were astonished at the number and quality of the applications we received,” said James Siegal, CEO of KaBOOM!. “To us, it shows a huge, untapped potential to reimagine cities with kids in mind, and boost their opportunity to get the play they need to thrive. And when kids thrive, cities thrive.”

Kids need play to grow up healthy, resilient and ready for life. Research shows play is vital to healthy brain development and is pivotal to how kids learn problem-solving, conflict resolution and creativity. In other words, these are the skills they need to succeed as adults. Yet today, too many kids, especially those growing up in poverty, are missing out on play because of families’ time pressures, the lure of screens, and a lack of safe places to go. Meanwhile, evidence shows missing out on the chance to play puts kids at risk for challenges ranging from obesity to anxiety to trouble adjusting in school.

Winners for the competition will be selected in fall 2016. To learn more about the City of Peoria’s proposed project for making play happen everywhere, contact Innovation Team Project Manager Kate Green at 309-494-8555 or To learn more about the Play Everywhere Challenge, including a gallery of ideas for what play everywhere could look like across the U.S. please visit