York City has been chosen as one of 10 communities nationwide to pilot a new program endorsed by first lady Michelle Obama that aims to draw more kids outside for playtime.

On four days next year, the city plans to close neighborhood streets to traffic. In its place will be childhood games, races, obstacle courses, dancing, skating, crafts, puzzles and, possibly, healthy-cooking lessons.

The program, called Play Streets, is designed to combat childhood obesity in urban areas. York is the recipient of a $50,000 grant from the group that developed the program.

"There's a lot of activities already going on in York to make York a healthier city," said Barbara Kovacs, director of the York City Health Bureau. "This is just another way to get children and families to be active."

The city is required to host four events before October. So, Kovacs said, there's a lot of planning to do between now and May 18, when the city's first event is scheduled.

Most likely, each event will last about four or five hours, Kovacs said.

"As York works to make healthy lifestyles as accessible as possible, we need to remember that keeping kids active isn't a secret - they just need places to be kids," said Mayor Kim Bracey, according to a news release. "A Play Street provides a place for them to do just that and takes advantage of our existing infrastructure."

Eat Play Breathe York, a partnership of local organizations, will plan the events.


Cori Strathmeyer, the YMCA's wellness director, will serve as the coordinator.

The other cities chosen for Play Streets are Buffalo, N.Y.; Caguas, Puerto Rico; Chicago; Durham, N.C.; Minneapolis; New Orleans; Omaha, Neb.; San Francisco; and Savannah, Ga.

Play Streets is an initiative of Partnership for a Healthier America, a group founded in 2010 that "brings together public, private and nonprofit leaders to broker meaningful commitments and develop strategies to end childhood obesity," according to the organization's website.

Michelle Obama serves as the group's honorary chairwoman. She announced the Play Streets program in July.

According to PHA's website, York will host its first Play Street on May 18 in the Salem Square neighborhood.

Other dates include June 19 in the neighborhood around Kiwanis Lake and July 20 in the Albemarle Park neighborhood. A date for the fourth event, possibly in the Springdale neighborhood, is pending.

The Play Streets program is financially supported by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, Capital BlueCross and Highmark Blue Shield.

- Erin James may also be reached at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.