Shade provision in public playgrounds for thermal safety and sun protection: A case study across 100 play spaces in the United States

Heather Olsen, Eric Kennedy, Jennifer Vanos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Outdoor recreational spaces for children are a highly valued aspect of society to support child well-being. However, there are many important health considerations, such as surface temperatures and ultraviolet radiation exposure that are neglected in traditional initiatives of playground safety, which may impact children's exposures during play. The present study provides an overview of a safety assessment of playgrounds in the United States, specifically investigating 103 public playgrounds for an applied understanding of the relationship of surface-to-air temperatures for installed surfacing materials, and the prevalence of shade during peak midday hours. Results demonstrate that natural surface materials resulted in moderated temperatures relative to ambient temperature, while artificial surfaces resulted in higher surface temperatures than ambient. Minimal shading was encountered, 67% of playgrounds visited were not shaded between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. This case study provides critical insight, discussion, and novel questions pertaining to the holistic consideration of numerous aspects of playground safety, which can mutually support social and ecological values while providing health co-benefits. Not only are important health risks, such as sunburns and temperature extremes ignored in current playground safety guidelines, but much of the essential information is not available to the end-users making design decisions that may affect the safety and active play experience for the users. Our results strongly motivate future large-scale studies assessing the influence of design on ambient exposures and the provision that bioclimatic principles and greenspace have a central role in playground design.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)200-211
Number of pages12
JournalLandscape and Urban Planning
StatePublished - Sep 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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