Before and After: Boston’s Public School Playgrounds

The Boston Schoolyard Initiative has wrapped up 18 years of renovations to BPS's green spaces.

As the magazine looked back on Mayor Menino’s legacy this month, we noted how the landscape of the city has changed over two decades. There was the Big Dig of course, and the Innovation District, and entire neighborhoods that have sprouted up and reinvented themselves (and now have the real estate-friendly acronyms to match). But a slightly less obvious change to the city has taken place in its schoolyards. For the past 18 years, the city, Boston Public Schools, and the Boston Schoolyard Funders Collaborative have collaborated on the Boston Schoolyard Initiative, and together they’ve created 88 new play spaces at the city’s schools, or a total of “130 acres for learning and play,” says Myrna Johnson, the Schoolyard Initiative’s executive director.  “It’s the equivalent of another Boston Public Garden’s amount of green space for the city.”

Johnson says that before the initiative started back in 1995, kids were often playing in “awful cracked asphalt lots.” When a team of environmental advocates approached the mayor about finding new ways to bring green spaces to Boston, a public/private partnership was born. (It’s now the longest-standing such partnership still operating in the city.) Menino saw the schoolyards as a blank slate, she says, and soon enough, colorful murals, new gym equipment, and community gardens began literally sprouting up. Since then, they’ve managed to overhaul every feasible play space at K-8 schools in the city. (A few schools lack any potential green space on their grounds.)

In all, over $20 million has been spent sprucing up the yards. That’s money well spent, says Johnson. Studies indicate that students who have access to renovated schoolyards demonstrate increased physical activity.

“Giving kids some connection to their natural world has a lot of benefits both emotionally and developmentally,” she says, noting science and writing curricula have been designed specifically for the 32 outdoor classrooms that have been created. The final playground opened yesterday at the Higginson-Lewis School in Roxbury with new play equipment, a basketball court, science experiment tables, a performance stage and amphitheater, and a community garden. (It’s the second set of before-after shots below.) Johnson says the Schoolyard Initiative will discontinue its operations in December, knowing they’ve achieved their goal. Here are just a few of the transformations, all care of BPS:

Guild Elementary, before:



Guild Elementary, after:



Higginson Lewis, before:



Higginson Lewis, after:



Perkins Elementary, before:



Perkins Elementary, after: