Founded in 2017, Just Play Project (JPP) is an on-the-ground model based in Ithaca, New York.

Community by community, JPP creates time and space for the child’s right to play and is emerging as a model to support children’s free play in communities by focusing on people, places, and policies. JPP trains and employs playworkers, empowers youth participation in the planning + design of public places, and enables cross-sector collaborations to create policies for the provision of play. 

Core to the mission of Just Play Project is developing an economically, socially, and environmentally just model of free play for all.

This is a work in progress...    

2017: JPP partnered with Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS) and Northside United to support a youth-led planning and design of a new playground built in the Northside neighborhood.

2017-present: With support from Park Foundation, Community Foundation of Tompkins County, Tompkins County Youth Development Services, Ithaca Youth Bureau (Youth Employment Services!, and Tompkins County Health Department), JPP has employed and trained dozens of playworkers to activate local public parks by providing free summer play opportunities for over 400 children.

2018-present: In partnership with Ithaca City School District, JPP is Reimagining Recess! to ensure all students have an opportunity for learning and development through child-directed play, during school.

2018: Just Play Project is building capacity to inform local policy change, working alongside City government, non-profits, and private businesses to include policies for play. In November 2018, City of Ithaca Mayor - Svante Myrick proclaimed Ithaca a “Free Range Kid City”.

2019: Piloting Just Play Streets in Downtown Ithaca City streets! More information coming soon.

Just Play Project believes child-directed play is a catalyst for community development and a way children participate actively in their communities. Learn more about our three focuses below: People. Places. Policies.


"The playworker sees children through the lens of play."

- Penny Wilson


Play is a set of behaviors that are freely chosen, personally directed, and intrinsically motivated. Playworkers manage and create spaces for children’s play, in a way that is as invisible and unobtrusive to children as possible. Establishing a profession of local community playworkers builds advocates and professionals who know of the importance of play in all children's lives... and become a tranformative force to provide play for all.


inclusion of youth voice in planning + design of outdoor public space

We didn’t think when we petitioned the City for a playground 2 years ago that it would actually happen. I was only 12 and I didn’t think the City would take me seriously… but now it is happening + it’s exciting! It’s fun to be helping out in our community.

– Teen planner + designer of “The Hangout”
Mayor Svante Myrick proclaimed November 6, 2017 as Northside United Youth Empowerment Day in the City of Ithaca! (Teen Designers of 'The Hangout')

Mayor Svante Myrick proclaimed November 6, 2017 as Northside United Youth Empowerment Day in the City of Ithaca! (Teen Designers of 'The Hangout')

Creating policies for the provision of play in public spaces.


Playworkers are the transformative people behind this project. Youth participation in the environmental design of public places for play is powerful. And local, state, and federal policies send a message that this work is valued + can influence population-level change. Policies for Play are needed in the US + we're getting started here in Ithaca, New York.

Ithaca’s Mayor Svante Myrick proclaimed the City of Ithaca to be a “Free Range Kid City”

freerange Ithaca - landscape arch mag_Page_1.png
freerange Ithaca - landscape arch mag_Page_2.png