Shared Use Agreements: Breaking Down Barriers to Child Physical Activity

running kids

The childhood obesity epidemic has captured the attention of several school districts across the country. Recently, limited recess time and access to exercise facilities have been deemed one of the culprits of this issue. Parents and faculty members have become especially concerned with the reduced physical activity of today’s children, compared to that of older generations. According to the American Heart Association, people who have parks or recreational facilities nearby exercise 38% more than those who do not have easy access to them.

Many schools either cannot provide recess environments conducive to child’s play or they close their outdoor activity facilities to the public after school hours. Liability, vandalism, maintenance, and security risks pose great concerns to such districts and their counties. However, shared use agreements, or formal agreements between two government entities that mandate rules for public property use, can minimize liability risk when all parties have insurance and can help fund and maintain the property. Several school districts have already overcome these hurdles to make maximum use out of public space and money by using shared use agreements.

There are several ways to advocate for shared use agreements, such as having state and federal governments require communities to formulate the, if they apply for public funding or grants. As an example, Seattle, Washington’s most recent agreement, grants access to “all public facilities and grounds, either owned by the City or District,” for all children and adults, and outlines procedures to resolve space availability conflicts. In addition, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York launched “The Schoolyards to Playground Initiative” in 2007, planning to open 290 school playgrounds across the city during after school hours. Bloomberg stressed the importance for “all New Yorkers to live within a 10-minute walk of a park or playground.”

Parents and community members can also advocate for shared use agreements by urging their school and local government officials to generate them. Schools, community members, and municipalities must agree on the best options for their unique situations. Greater attention will be paid to public health and the obesity crisis if more people increase the demand for recreational activity centers and extended access to them.


Allison Milch, Cornell University

Alisha Gaines, PhD, Cornell University, Division of Nutrition Sciences 


“” News from the Blue Room, 2 July 2007. Web.

Shared Use of School and Community Facilities.” Safe Routes to School National Partnership. Safe Routes to School National Partnership, n.d. 

1. FACTS (n.d.): n. pag. The American Heart Association, Feb. 2012.

Additional Links

Model Joint Use Agreement Resources by ChangeLab Solutions 

Planning and Policy Document Library by Seattle Parks and Recreation