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Putting a Price Tag on Children's Play

The power of play: Playrooms and outdoor space.

Key points

  • Modern urban children appear to be born street-smart.
  • Children raised in greener urban neighborhoods have higher IQs.
  • Play contributes to cognitive, social, and physical well-being. 

Last week, one of Long Island City's leading real estate brokers, Serene Powers, had something to show me. On a rainy Sunday afternoon, I entered the Skyline Tower, Long Island City's luxury new building, designed for enhanced well-being and easier living. It's Long Island City's tallest building—the building sparkles from every direction. No pre-war charm is to be found. The first thing that I always notice when I visit Long Island City is the vast number of baby strollers and dogs at the many green parks. Earlier this Fall, the publication Patch announced that one playground will get a $5 million overhaul. Now that's my tax dollars at work. New Yorkers spare no expenses for dogs and babies.

As someone who grew up in the suburbs, I'm fascinated by urban children. Modern urban children appear to be born street-smart. By the time they are 3 years of age, they ride scooters down bumpy sidewalks, swerving around dogs, pizza rats, and the elderly strolling with walkers. It’s clearly a chaotic environment, but urban children do not seem to mind. In fact, chaos may benefit cognitive development. As outlined by a recent New York Times article, Viral Videos of Rats, Roaches, and Grime ." Nearly three years into the Covid pandemic, there is a chaotic mood in the city — a feeling that pent-up energy is spilling into the streets " It's no surprise that so many creatives love working in New York City. Chaos inspires creativity.

Why are there so many smart children in Long Island City? New research shows that children raised in greener urban neighborhoods have higher IQs. Esmee Bijnens and colleagues tested over 600 children in Belgium who were between 7 and 15 years of age. The research team found that for children living in an urban environment, residential green space was associated with higher intelligence. It is perhaps no wonder that, according to the recent articles, Which Amenities are Worth the Most to New York City Buyers and These NYC Home Features Command the Highest Price Premium for Sellers, people are willing to pay a 10.7 premium for outdoor space when considering apartments in the $2.5 million range.

Where was Serene Powers taking me? To the playroom. New Yorkers pay more for playrooms. That’s a very good thing as children learn from play. Play contributes to cognitive, social, and physical well-being. Play enhances brain structure and function. What do play and cognitive development have to do with real estate? Just look out for those urban children on scooters. They will give you the answers. When children come in from the parks and activities, they need somewhere to continue to play. This is especially critical for urban children who often reside in less space. For units sold below the $2.5 million mark, the children’s playroom ranks as the fourth highest premium at 11 percent. It’s hard to put a price tag on the value and benefits of play in early development, but we just did.

More from Maithri Sivaraman, Ph.D., and Tricia Striano Skoler Ph.D.
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