PlayBuild Named Winner in KaBOOM! Play Everywhere Challenge

$15K Grant Will Fund Phase One of PL@Y MLK Bringing Play to the MLK Neutral Ground

[NEW ORLEANS, LA]. – This week, PlayBuild was selected as a winner in the Play Everywhere Challenge, a $1 million national competition that will award innovative 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 kids, particularly those growing up in poverty in America.

PlayBuild, in partnership with the Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking at Tulane University will receive $15,000 of funding to launch Phase One of PL@Y MLK – transforming the neutral ground of the Martin Luther King corridor in Central City as a weekend play destination for kids and families.

PL@Y MLK was selected as one of 50 winners out of a pool of more than 1,000 applications nationwide.

Working in collaboration with Taylor and local community partners, PlayBuild will deploy a mobile PL@Y MLK play station full of large and small-scale toys, games and creative play activities on the MLK neutral ground. Temporary seating will enable kids and families to gather and play.

Phase One will see the launch of the first mobile play station on MLK in November. Later phases of the project will see the rollout of additional themed play stations, which will be housed with community partners along MLK Boulevard between Simon Bolivar and Claiborne Avenues. PlayBuild will fundraise an additional $30K with a goal of implementing the project fully by mid-2017.

The Play Everywhere Challenge was 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. It has attracted an outpouring of creative ideas to spark kids’ imaginations and get their bodies moving.

The PL@Y MLK concept came from a desire to reach more Central City, New Orleans kids with PlayBuild’s unique program to engage them in design-themed play with a range of innovative toys and materials. PlayBuild operates from a formerly blighted that has been converted into an outdoor classroom. PlayBuild’s play space is located at 2828 Thalia Street, one block from Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Angela Kyle, Playbuild co-founder explains: PL@Y MLK originated from a neighborhood experience in April 2016 with the Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking. Feedback from residents of the MLK corridor between Simon Bolivar and Claiborne Avenues confirmed that access to everyday play spots is a challenge. Kids still lack play opportunities within a safe walking distance. Creating and regularly mobilizing our portable play station along MLK, we hope to address that challenge.

PlayBuild will work closely with with local anchor institutions like churches and community centers and will recruit neighborhood residents and Tulane University students to help implement, refine the designs, run play stations, and monitor and evaluate impact.. 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, the skills they need to succeed as adults. Yet today, too many kids, especially those growing up in poverty, are missing out on opportunities for play because of families’ time pressures, the lure of screens, and a lack of safe places to go. Meanwhile, evidence shows missing out on play time puts kids at risk for challenges ranging from obesity to anxiety to trouble adjusting in school.

“Winners like PlayBuild and the Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking are at the vanguard of building kid-friendly cities that meet the needs of families and enable kids to thrive,” said James Siegal, CEO of KaBOOM!. “By integrating play into everyday spaces in such an innovative way, PL@Y MLK is a great model to inspire other cities across the country to follow suit.”

“Winning this challenge is a win for New Orleans kids, and for their chances to grow and develop through play,” said Angela Kyle, Co-founder of PlayBuild applicant. “This prize will help us build on the work we are doing in Central City by creating a portable and visible way for PlayBuild to have a presence on the MLK corridor and meet more neighborhood kids and parents. We hope this prize will be a bellwether for Central City and set an example for all of New Orleans. Starting here on the neutral ground we can design a real, radical transformation to make play a way of life for all kids and families in our community. PL@Y MLK addresses equity issues in New Orleans at ground zero by making play accessible especially in underserved neighborhoods.”

To learn more about PlayBuild’s ideas for making play happen everywhere in Central City, and across New Orleans, and to express interest in partnering with PL@Y MLK contact PlayBuild co-founder Angela Kyle by email at

Visit PlayBuild online at:, on Facebook at:, and follow on Twitter: @PlayBuild_NOLA

For press queries contact Amy Barrios at MultiMedia Solutions by phone at 504-621-5646

To learn more about the Play Everywhere Challenge, and view a gallery of winning ideas from cities across the US, please visit


About PlayBuild
PlayBuild is a three-year old education non-profit based in Central City. PlayBuild’s mission is to transform under-utilized urban spaces into dynamic play environments for kids. In 2013, PlayBuild turned a blighted lot on Thalia Street into an outdoor classroom, hosting neighborhood charter schools for after-school activities. In 2014 PlayBuild partnered with Palmisano Contractors to fulfill the dream of a permanent play space with an open-air classroom, green space and a garden. Beyond Central City, throughout the year PlayBuild produces pop-up play events for kids and families in partnership with local community organizations. For more info please visit: You can follow PlayBuild on Facebook at:, and on Twitter at @PlayBuild_NOLA


About the Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Design Thinking and Social Innovation
Taylor dissolves boundaries and inspires collaboration between students, staff, faculty, and community members to develop innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social and environmental problems. Founded in 2014 with a generous gift from Phyllis M. Taylor, the center coalesces campus and community engagement in social innovation, social entrepreneurship, and design thinking, providing a unique interdisciplinary inter-section of thought and action on our campus and in our local and global community. Activities at Taylor include an academic minor, workshops, speakers, competitions, and other programs working with diverse faculty, staff, students and community partners.


PlayBuild wins Play Everywhere grant to bring mobile play stations to Central City New Orleans

After months of hard work, we are thrilled to be able to share our vision for PL@Y MLK and to announce that we are among the 50 winners of the Play Everywhere Challenge, a KaBOOM-hosted, nationwide contest to bring play to everyday places and spaces in underserved communities.

The seed for PL@Y MLK was planted in April 2016, when we partnered with the Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking for our second Fast 48 Design Thinking Boot Camp. Thirty design thinkers joined us for 48 hours over a weekend to rapid prototype community development ideas that would help PlayBuild engage a broader cross section of organizations in Central City. Plus help us serve more children in that neighborhood, which is home to our outdoor classroom where we do afterschool programming and host field trips.

Fast 48 Design Thinking Workshop 2016 -


Fast 48 Design Thinking Workshop 2016 - Mapping the neighborhood around PlayBuild's Thalia Street outdoor location

A key insight from neighbors and community residents was a need for PlayBuild to raise its visibility in the neighborhood (our classroom site is tucked away on a side street) and offer more frequent opportunities for community members to engage with PlayBuild’s programming and play activities. In addition, several members of the church across the street from our site expressed a desire for us to bring our outreach program to them and engage their youth ministry in much the same way that we engage with local schools.

Based on this feedback, one of the Fast 48 teams brainstormed solutions for “hyper local play.” This concept eventually evolved into the idea of “pop-up play events,” targeting a tightly-focused pedestrian zone within a 5-10 block distance of our Thalia Street home base.

Graphic showing first phase of Play MLK initiative, planned for MLK Blvd in Central City, New Orleans

When the KaBOOM Play Everywhere Challenge was announced in May, we pulled our team of weekend warriors back together and went to work on developing this kernel of an idea into a viable proposal.

We needed to create a mobile version of the ‘PlayBuild experience’ that would function as an extension of PlayBuild, yet enable us to broaden our reach and expand our neighborhood footprint. Almost like “PlayBuild To Go.”

Luckily, we knew just the people to ask! Leslie and Sam Davol, co-founders of the UNI Project, have been friends and founding partners of PlayBuild since we started. When we reached out to them, they proposed their mini mobile cart as the perfect solution for our needs and we agreed.

We submitted our initial Play Everywhere proposal in June, and in July, we were invited to the finalist round.

In true design thinking fashion, conversations with potential local partners led us to iterate the initial concept, which we decided to brand PL@Y MLK.

A big focus of our discussion was around using the neutral ground (i.e., what we call a median in New Orleans) along Martin Luther King Boulevard as our chosen location for staging PL@Y MLK play stations. A few team members did a deep dive into the history and significance of the neutral ground as we considered the pros (visibility) and cons (safety) of situating play activities along a highly trafficked corridor.

As we grappled with this conundrum, in early and mid-July racial violence flared in Baton Rouge in the wake of Alton Sterling’s death and subsequent police shootings.

With this context, the historic significance of the neutral ground – a safe zone where two sides in a conflict were invited to come and lay down their arms – took on a greater and more urgent relevance as we considered the day-to-day lives of the children and young people in our neighborhood.

Our tag line became: “From the playground to the neutral ground.”


PL@Y MLK – Phase One

Our KaBOOM award will enable us to implement Phase One of our long-term plan for PL@Y MLK – to build and deploy three play stations along the MLK Boulevard corridor.

We will build and launch our first UNI cart in early November and work closely with a host partner in the neighborhood to plan and manage implementation. Tulane and the Taylor Center will provide implementation support, volunteers, evaluation, and impact assessment.


PL@Y MLK – Beyond

If Phase 1 is successful, we’ll raise money to build at least two more mobile play stations and partner with additional host organizations in the neighborhood to deploy them along the MLK corridor.

Our end goal is to be able to program a zone of play that comprises the eight blocks from Simon Bolivar to Claiborne Avenues and includes our Thalia Street play space.

It Takes a Village to Design Play Everywhere

We’ve spent the past month working an amazing team of collaborators on two proposals for the KaBOOM Play Everywhere challenge.

We’ve been fortunate to partner with KaBOOM twice in the past three years, so when they announced the challenge along with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Target we were excited to think about how we could extend our mission through a few new ideas that we would like to implement in our Central City neighborhood.

The timing of the challenge dovetailed with the second round of our participation in the Fast 48 Design Thinking Boot Camp – a 2-day workshop hosted by the Taylor Center for Design Thinking and Social Innovation at Tulane.

We tasked our 30 workshop participants to help us get creative about how we deepen engagement with our Central City community and expand the network of kids and families that we serve.

Coming out of the workshop we invited Fast48’ers to stay engaged with us while we developed our Challenge concepts.

As a result we had a rock star multi-disciplinary team that came together to ideate and collaborate.

We’ve been on our block now for nearly three years, and we’ve seen and learned a lot, but with outside perspectives we honed in on some key challenges, which served as a jumping off point for framing our proposed solutions.

The community in our neighborhood is hyper local. The families on our block have been there for several generations and though a number of them were displaced by Katrina, many have come back. They represent a deep and highly interconnected web of personal and family relationships and friendships that all unfold within a 5-block radius. Even the housing development at the far end of Thalia Street is like another city for our local PlayBuild kids. We need to deploy more tactical play solutions around the neighborhood for smaller scale activities and to reinforce awareness of PlayBuild as a hub for neighborhood play.

Traffic and street safety risks limit mobility. Because we sit near the intersection of several major traffic arteries – Claiborne Avenue and MLK, traffic and safety are a consideration that prevents kids from crossing neighborhood boundaries.

Even students from Sylvanie Williams College Prep, which sits two blocks from PlayBuild are limited in their ability to come to visit our space because they can’t navigate the treacherous MLK and Claiborne intersection.

On a longer term basis while we think about solutions like Play Streets, for the short term we are thinking about how we can turn the transit zones in our community into play stations.

Churches and Faith-Based Organizations are under-utilized community catalysts. When our Fast48 team walked the streets to do a preliminary needs assesement, they mapped the neighborhood and identified no fewer than 10 churches in our immediate blocks. Each of these churches represents a community of kids and families that we would love to get to know. We are committed to finding ways to connect with these organizations. By deploying our toys and materials in partnership with church youth ministries or tying in with seasonal events and activities, we want to build strong alliances with more Central City church communities.

There’s a treasure chest of building materials in our backyard. Diagonally opposite our Thalia Street play space is the Uptown Recycling Center – a massive repository of scap metal, old tires, and every kind of discarded material imaginable. Two weeks ago we took ourselves on a field trip across the street, and weren’t we were glad we did?! First we met Alex Smith, a Design grad from Loyola who runs the business for his family. Alex not only showed us around and took us on a tour of his secret stash of finds, he also volunteered to jump into our planning process with some great ideas for and help think about how we could start upcycling materials for some future PlayBuild projects.

Massive shout-out of thanks to the extended team and associated organizations that contributed to this effort.

From our (extended) F48/Taylor Center krewe:

Antonio Alonzo – marketing & communications, IDIYA maker space (photography)

Maille Faughnan – PhD Candidate, Payson School for Global Development, Taylor Center for Design Thinking (concept review)

Kristen Hill – Candidate, M Arch, Tulane School of Architecture (renderings, and visuals

Mallory LaGrone – Elementary School Teacher (concept write-ups)

Lisa Paterson – Tulane School of Public Health (concept write-ups)

Marcella del Signore – Professor, Tulane School of Architecture (concept review)

Jordan Stewart – Tulane School of Public Health (concept review)

Partnering Organization Stakeholders

Heidi Schmalbach, New Orleans Arts Council

Chelsea Hylton, Project Peaceful Warriors

Alexander Smith, Manager, Uptown Recycling

PlayBuild Network

Naomi Doerner, Transportation Planner, Member, PlayBuild Board of Directors

Jackie InghlefieldPlayBuild parent & visual artist

Also big thanks to the Blue House for giving us a space to gather and work!